L I E> RARY OF THE UN IVERSITY or ILLI NOIS 813 M5B4s Digitized by tine Internet Arcinive in 2009 with funding from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign http://www.archive.org/details/sackclothbroadcl01midd SACKCLOTH AND BROADCLOTH. A NOVEL. BY JEAN MIDDLEMASS, AITHOR OF ' WILD GEORGIE,' ' SEALED BY A KISS,' ' INNOCENCE AT PLAY, ETC., ETC. IN THREE VOLUMES. VOL. I. TINSLEY BROTHERS, CATHERINE STREET, STRAND, LONDON, I 88 I. \^All Rights reserved.^ COLSTON AND SON, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH. ^ Sackcloth and Broadcloth. CHAPTER I. c^ GUIDE, PHILOSOPHER, AND FRIEND. UID brevi fortes jaculamus sevo Multa," if one may be allowed the seeming incongruity of quoting Horace to a lady,' and the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright lounged luxuriously in his chair as though thorough enjoyment was ^ the ne plus ultra of life. ^ * My dear father had me initiated in a ^little Latin. I suppose you mean that more ^ work would exhaust your vitality and deepen, ^before middle age, the furrows on your brow.*^' ^said Mrs Desborough in a soft voice, point- ^ VOL. I. A Sackcloth and Broadcloth, ing her words with just that happy admixture of compHment and sneer, of which only a woman knows the proportions. The vicar laughed — for he was the vicar of the parish, this elegant disciple of Epicurus — and he was quite fifty, notwithstanding Mrs Desborough's kindly allusion to the date when he should reach the usually long halt- ing place between youth and old age. * Only dry wood burns steadily,' he an- swered, using metaphor, a mode of speech in which he frequently indulged. ' Why intro- duce damp twigs which are the mere offshoots of young half-grown trees, unless for the sake of squandering your energies by the perpet- ual use of the bellows ? ' Mrs Desborough shrugged her shoulders ; but before we follow their conversation sufficiently to reach its subject-matter, a sketch in black and white of place and people were perhaps convenient. Vantage Park is a grand old seignorial estate, situated in a northern county about Guide, Philosopher, and Friend. 3 twelve miles from the sea. An architectural digression, long enough to form a volume in itself, might be made out of its gables, archi- traves, corbels, mullions and gargoyles, not to allude to more than one stirring epoch of which those ancient walls have been mute witnesses in times gone by. But in the year of grace 1869, the possessors of Vantage Park, endowed to the fullest with this world's goods, had made it the abode of luxury and modern art. True, the squire loved the tra- ditions of his race and name, and secretly revered the old pile for its time-honoured descent ; nay, it is even whispered that he made a daily pilgrimage to a particular column, whereon was faintly inscribed a date that conveyed a twelfth-century recollection to his mind. But of the cheery pleasant- tempered artistic little squire anon. ' He is but a cipher in the great account' Mrs Desborough holds the reins, and governs house and lands. Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Sitting gracefully on a satin sofa, knitting usefully for the poor, and talking, oh ! so softly and complacently to the vicar, Mrs Desborough, with her calm white counten- ance, matronly figure undulating with creamy lace, and her genial smile, scarcely looks a formidable dame. Still, given the velvet exterior which charms and holds a fresh acquaintance captive, her eyes — mark ! we did not speak of eyes In the pleasant picture — they are usually half shut, under drooping lids, but seldom are they allowed to tell the latent thought ; besides, although you scarcely own it even to yourself, there Is a barricade of manner between you and Mrs Desborough. It arises probably from a consciousness of her own superiority, which she cannot help displaying — unwillingly It Is true, for Mrs Desborough spreads her net to please, though she Is the mother of two grown-up sons. She likes what she calls the intellectual companionship of men — perhaps she does not Guide, Philosopher, and Friend. 5 altogether stop there — and craves something more than mental flattery in her relations with the sterner sex ; but, alas ! Mrs Des- borough was born 2iprecieuse, and in display- ing too freely her blue stockings, well-shaped though the feet and ankles are they encase, she loses the power of mere womanliness. History, chronology, especially as to the births, deaths, and marriages of her ac- quaintances, linked with an unconquerable predilection for the Dutch school of word painting, are characteristics, taken collec- tively, which must nip in the bud as a keen March wind, any utterances of tenderness. What so freezing as a tedious detail — a long episode of the reign of Phillipe le Bel, care- fully elaborated, or more annihilating than a wordy lecture on the absolute necessity of being useful to your fellows ? No, Mrs Desborough in her efforts to be admired, lost the chance of being loved. Yet the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright, vicar Sackcloth and Broadcloth. of Fernwood-cum-Grasdale, a fat living in the gift of the owner of Vantage Park, was on terms of close Intimacy with the lady of the house. It was an alliance based on the usual premises, antithetical opinions ; hence argument was the pumice stone which pre- vented rust from corroding their friendship. Vantage Park, with Its ever hospitable reception, was a pleasant lounge for the vicar, who appreciated fully the comfortable appointments of the establishment, the luscious wines of which the cellar boasted, and above all what he was wont to call the * ambrosia/ provided by M. Baptlste, who was a veritable cordon bleu. Not that Mr Sivewright's bachelor surroundings were very Inferior In luxury to those of the great house, for this modern Lucullus, with his classical proclivities and self-indul- gent — we had almost written sensual — habits, had metamorphosed the vicarage Into an abode of luxury which more resembled Guide, Philosopher, and Friend. 7 a villa of old Tusculum than the working quarters of a plain steady-going English clergyman. Mr Sivewright's appearance was in strict accordance with his tastes. He was tall, in his youth had probably been slight ; but now his embonpoint almost amounted to obesity, though it could never degenerate into coarseness, for seldom does high breeding stand in such good stead as when age or indulgence have banished the more transitory attributes of humanity. Mr Sivewright had a noble head, a calm philo- sophic brow ; his hair, which was iron grey, grew plentifully, and just turned into a curl, perhaps naturally ; it were scarcely seemly in so dignified a personage to hint at art ; yet only valets know the trifles by which great triumphs are completed. His face was closely shaven, the dark well-formed eyebrows, and the clear speaking eyes were its chief beauties. The nose was Roman, and well-nigh perfect in shape, yet the 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, possibility of an ideal man vanished as you looked at the full ruddy lips with their epicurean expression. Dress manifestly was one of Mr Sive- wright's especial studies, and not only was he never seen with a speck or flaw on his broad- cloth, but the form and texture were to him mat- ters of interest ; nor did he rigidly, except on state occasions, adhere to the ordained church- man's garb, as did his neighbour and dear brother in orders, the Rev. Mr Lently, even to exaggeration, almost amounting to caricature. As Mr Sivewright sits now in Mrs Des- borough's morning-room, quoting Horace in that clear, well-educated voice of his which, together with his elegant scholarship, might with more energy have made him an orator, he feels that the ground on which he rests is trembling as if by electricity — he is sensible of disruptive signs — an earthquake is at hand. His long white fingers paddle among his silvered locks, and he mentally observes Guide ^ Philosopher, and Friend. 9 that there has been an interview between Mrs Desborough and his reverend brother Lently, whom he ever designates as the disturber of peace. It is against Mr Sivewright's creed to give way to strong language and vituperative epithets. Yet Ritualism is his bHe noire, he endures it with a smile and denounces it more in acts than words, though never perhaps does he feel more inclined to throw off his apathy and fight for his rights, than when the Rev. Luke Lently, the ritual- istic thunderer of the adjacent parish, makes a descent on Vantage Park and seeks to convert the lady of the house to his peculiarly limited views. Mrs Desborough is angry. She shrugs her shoulders and knits very fast ; but, like her classical friend, she has her feelings under command, and for a moment or two she does not speak. * What does he mean by damp twigs and bellows ? If any one ever wanted rousing I o Sackcloth and Broadcloth. he does himself. It Is the old story of the mote and the beam/ At last she breaks out, darting with woman's love of sudden digres- sion into another branch of the subject. * It is not that I hold all Mr Lently's views, though I think there is much good in some of them ; but I do wish I could see a little new work begun in this parish.' ' Heaven forbid ! ' fervently ejaculated the vicar. ' My dear Mr Sivewright, you need not disturb yourself. I shall be only too happy to qualify for a machine. Giving the people objects of interest and usefulness would help to smooth away some of the difficulties of one's own life.' And she sighed as though the last part of the sentence was pregnant with meaning. The vicar declined the hidden interpretation by a straightforward answer. ' Increase them tenfold, you mean, my dear friend, by setting an immense amount of Gtiide, Philosopher, and FiHe^id. 1 1 parochial machinery In motion which you will be powerless to stop. All these Innova- tions are, as you know, quite against my conservative views. Let us keep the people as they were primitively, '' hewers of wood and drawers of water ! " These so-called re- forms only defeat their own ends, and render the profanum vulgus totally unfit for duty. Progression applied to the lower orders is the crying mistake of the century ; feed them, clothe them if you like, but — ' ' Really, Mr Sivewright, this is going too far. Has not every healthy child that is born a heart and head as well as a stomach ? What did Heaven make them for ? ' * Use naturally ; but not use artificially. If you turn a common field flower into an exotic, it is no longer a field flower. It becomes a specimen of a totally different plant, unless, indeed, It dies in the forcing. Since Provi- dence has instituted diversity, why should we attempt to establish oneness by lowering 1 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ourselves to the level of the masses, which we must necessarily do in our endeavours to raise them to our standard. Against all this abominable democracy nature rebels.' * But they have souls to save ! ' Mr Sivewright bowed his head and looked at his filbert nails. * They worship Heaven in the fulness of its power, its works, its benefits — in fact, what more do you want ? ' ' But Mr Lently says — ' A smile spread itself over Mr Sivewright's countenance ; he looked radiant when most men would have been angry. ' With your erudition, your broad free views, your capability for grasping the truth, I am surprised that you should do more than feel amused by the study of Lently 's " Guide to Heaven." Poor fellow ? ' ' Mr Lently is very zealous, he can scarcely fail to reach the desired goal, while we — Mr Sivewright, I am beset by many scruples.' Guide, Philosopher, and Friend. 13 * Since this morning. Mr Lently lunched here, I fancy ? ' * You do not object to my indulging occa- sionally in a little conversation with those who do not altogether think as you do ? ' asked the lady very humbly. ' Certainly not, my dear Mrs Desborough, certainly not. " Truth loves open dealing." If you or any of my parishioners feel that you are made happier by following the road of which Mr Lently has installed himself as signpost, pray do not let me be considered for a moment in the matter. My desire is that every one should discover what he or she feels to be the truth. All minds are not con- stituted alike — to some it is veiled in spiritual types, to some it is clear and unhidden.' * Ah ! ' said Mrs Desborough, as though her thoughts were beyond expression in words, and she laid her knitting in her lap, and folded her hands over it. Mr Sivewright's was pleasant, gentleman- 1 4 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, like, easy teaching. She would follow it gladly, if only that Mr Lently would not cross her path, and by uprooting all her calcula- tions, fill the air with scruples, and bring about those occasional small earthquakes which dislodged, for a time at least, all the placidity and geniality of the social relations of life. ' Then there is Matthew,' she observed after a short pause. It seemed a somewhat illogical remark, but to the initiated it had its sequence, as Mr Sivewright's answer proved. * Matthew is passing through the unstable period of extreme youth — his principles are by no means fixed. You surely would not allow him to influence you ? ' ' Yet he is going to take orders.' ' Just so — in time. Before that time arrives there may be many changes.' ' Really, Mr Sivewright, you are not en- couraging to-day ; and from such a friend as you are, I always look for help.' Guide, Philosopher, and Friend, 1 5 * Yet you sip the waters of every fountain, and imagine each one a Hippocrene/ * Pardon me, when poetry and the arts are in question, I never desert you ; but you are scarcely the Delphic oracle — is it not a voice rather than a mere human friend one wants to reveal the secrets of mystic life ? ' * Thereon hangs the whole question of a priesthood.' And Mr Sivewright rose as though the priestly dignity were one which his shoulders, developed though they were — yet scarcely felt broad enough to carry. The interruption was timely, for the sound of voices in the hall told of an arrival, and in another moment Mrs Desborough was in the arms of her eldest son, who for some months had been abroad seeing a little life on his own account — a good deal more than was good for him, if the truth were told. * My darling George ! ' and she looked into his face and smoothed the hair off his 1 6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. brow, as though she would still find the baby among his features, for George w^as Mrs Desborough*s favourite child, ' the glory and the darling of the old manorial hall.' 'You look charming, mother. How are the rest ? Is Matt going to take orders, young noodle ? I beg your pardon, Mr SIvewright, but you know you are an ex- ception. I always forget you are a parson. I have got lots to tell you. You'll ask me to dinner some night at the vicarage ; won't you ? ' * Yes, my dear young friend, whenever you like, so long as you bring a contribution to the feast In the form of anecdote.' * Ay will I, and good stories too.' And they shook hands warmly, for the vicar would have accused himself of want of tact If he had Intruded farther on the tite-a-tete, In which he believed, and truly, that mother and son would gladly Indulge after a long separation. K CHAPTER II. TABLE TALK. N a I'age de son coeur,' they say. This being so, Mrs Desborough was on the sunny side of thirty, whereas, in reaHty, she had completed her fifth decade ; but impressionable natures are apt to maintain perpetual youth, and Mrs Desborough was very sensible to impres- sions. Her character presented a curious mixture of cleverness and weakness ; in fact, she might have been in danger of passing for rather a silly woman, but for her rare educational advantages ; consequently her mind ran riot on theories instead of trifles. She was more or less under the mental VOL. I. B 1 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. dominion of the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright, though, for the sake of argument, she usu- ally fought his opinions at every issue. To-day, however, Mr Lently has had his turn, and been listened to with a degree of interest which has made him almost believe in the conversion of the mistress of Vantage Park ; but already a counter power has sprung up in the person of her son George, than whom Mr Sivewright could not have a more able coadjutor. The dinner-bell has just been rung, and Mrs Desborough sails in her soft quiet way into the room to join the family party there assembled before dinner. The squire and his son are talking on the hearthrug. * The dinner-bell has rung ages. Whom are we waiting for ? ' asked George, after some minutes had been passed in farther conversation with the squire, his mother meanwhile looking out of the window. ' For Matthew, I suppose ? ' Table Talk. ' Matthew ? Since when has he become a defaulter in hours ? Where is he ? We surely are not going to wait for him ? ' and this time George addresses his father. * Mr Matthew has not come in yet,' at this moment announces the butler, ' and dinner is served.' Matthew Desborough was like his mother, precise in matters of detail, vague and shifty in opinions, while he possessed even more than her natural amount of cleverness. His present absence was then the more remark- able, in that it was unusual. If George had been late or not forthcoming at dinner time, no one would have observed it ; but with Matthew the case was different, and each of the family formed his or her own con- clusions as to the cause as they went in to dinner. Matthew, during a long and highly dan- gerous illness, had been converted to Mr Lently's tone of thought, but had scarcely 20 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. sufficiently cultivated among other Chris- tian virtues that of tolerance ; perhaps because he felt that by giving way to invective against others he was render- ing his own ground more secure. Be it as it might, he railed smartly against what he deemed his brother's heathenism, and suffered cruelly, in that his words sel- dom called forth more than a smile from either George or Mr SIvewright, who were nearly allied in their contempt for, rather than their dread of, Matthew's and Mr Lently's school. The dinner, with its many courses, dawdled on, interspersed with such fragmentary con- versation as the presence of the servants per- mitted, during which let us finish our portrait- painting with sketches of father and son. Mr Desborough was a little fussy good- tempered garrulous man, his small talk being amusing, because generally on artistic sub- jects, and rendering him more or less a Table Talk, 21 favourite with every one excepting his wife, who did not deny the fact that the squire's tongue, Hke the dripping of perpetual water, became monotonous, and bored her. He was a thorough little gentleman — we might almost say courtier — and it would have galled Mrs Desborough not a little had she known that many of the invitations they received were more for the pleasure of enjoying his cheery society than for the sake of her prosy detailed stories. George, their eldest son, scarcely resembled either of his parents, except that he was thoroughly well-bred — a birthright of which a very free indulgence in the fashionable slang and fast manners of the day had not succeeded in depriving him. He was tall, good-looking, with a genial happy face ; owing to an amount of inborn philosophy the troubles and disappointments of life affected him but little. ' If you can't get the thing you want Sackcloth and Bi^oadcloth. the most, take the next best and be happy,' was the motto of George Desborough's life ; and he was one of the very few who succeed In leading a don't-care existence gracefully. Dinner has come to an end, and still Matthew is an absentee. Mrs Desborough is a little anxious ; a violent storm that had raeed in the afternoon makes her fear she knows not what. A footstep Is heard crossing the hall ; the important-looking butler comes once more into the room. ' Mr Matthew ? ' she asks, showing her family for the first time where her thoughts have been straying during dinner. No ; the servants' entrance has naught to do with Matthew. It is a note from the Duchess of Montarlis, conveying an invitation to Montarlis Castle for the following week. A curious little fluster manifests itself in the manner of the mistress of Vantage Park, during which Matthew is entirely forgotten Table Talk. 23 and Mr Lently's lecture on the vanities of life are conspicuously absent from the lady's mind. In the weakness of her human nature Mrs Desborough — established though her own position is — is not, with all her cleverness and sense of self-superiority, above having her vanity tickled and her pulse quickened each time she is brought into intimate relations with the very great lady of the county — her dear friend, the Duchess of Montarlis. ' A dinner or what ? ' inquires George. ' I hate a ragamuffin fete when the duke asks all the voting lot.' ' You are not invited, George ; but then of course the dear duchess does not know you have returned. It is a dinner this time — on the 24th. The invitation is only for your father and me. Shall I accept, Richard ? ' ' Yes, dear, if you like, of course. We have no other engagement I presume. I 24 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. wonder who will be there ? Not the Lancelot Cairns I hope. I took that mummy-headed woman into dinner the last time, and she is a bore. Oh ! Sivewrlght ; he is sure to be asked. We can offer to drive Sivewright over if he is going.' * The duchess never gives a party without Mr Sivewright ; of that you may be very sure.' And there was a strong emphasis on the never. George set up a shout of laughter, at which he received a look from his mother, which spoke a volume of rebuke, but he paid no attention, only went on laughing, and asked ironically, — ' Do you think exalted rank makes people stricter, mother mine ? ' * I don't know what you mean, George The dear duchess has very religious ten- dencies, and the duke is quite evangelical.* ' So I should suppose. He would not stand Lently at any price.' * No ; although they are not in his parish, Table Talk. 25 I think Mr Sivewrlght directs the family consciences. The duchess — ' ' Now, mother, be accurate ; you are generally so scrupulous in matters of detail.' * Well, they do say,' and Mrs Desborough prepared for a story in true narrative form, while George heaped his plate with fruit, for though he quite believed his mother would discover a good point at last, he im- agined she would be tolerably prolix before she got there. * You have not heard, my dear George,' she went on, ' how should you, since you have been away — the little tale about Mr Sivewright and the duchess ? I believe it is quite true, though Mr Sive- wright only laughs whenever I vaguely allude to it. It seems then that the duchess (it was before Mr Lently came) was beset by reli- gious scruples. She had spent some months in Italy — what happened there who shall say ? but her head had been filled with ideas about auricular confession, at which 26 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. the duke was quite aghast. Well, one morn- ing, soon after her return home, she drove over In her pony carriage to Fernwood Vicarage, and asked for a private interview with the vicar.' For a second or two George held a plum hesitatingly between his mouth and his plate, and then put it down before him and gave his undivided attention to the riper fruit his mother offered him. * What passed has not been exactly di- vulged,' went on Mrs Desborough. ' Only a few days afterwards the duke sent for Mr Sivewright in order to speak with him anent something important. On his arrival at Montarlis Castle he found the duke — you know he can look very fierce when he likes — perfectly livid with anger. But who so great an adept at pouring balm on open wounds as our facile vicar ? He succeeded not only in pacifying, but in reassuring the duke.' Table Talk. 27 ' Well, go on. You are not going to leave a fellow there. What happened ? ' ' The duke's evangelical bristles were up ; in fact he did not altogether understand the sort of creed Mr Sivewright professed. From hearing him preach the Sunday before, he came to the somewhat rash conclusion that the divine's unction had entrain, that he gave evidence of a fresh accession of religious life. With a confusion of ideas for which you know the dear duke is proverbial, he also settled it in his mind that Mr Sivewright's sanctity must be inseparable from what he calls the new-fangled church views which are creeping into the country. He therefore summoned the vicar in order to make him promise, as a man of honour, that nothing should induce him to hear the duchess's confession, how- ever much pressed.' ' Sivewright, surpliced, shriving the duchess, what a caricature it would make ! Why the deuce did she not go to Lently ? But go 28 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, on, finish the story. What did Sivewright say ? ' * It was before Mr Lently came. Our vicar met his grace's tirade with a smile of mingled pity and amusement, and having contemplated him with his head on one side for full a minute and a half, merely said, in that velvety voice of his we all know so well, *' My dear duke, I hope to keep my reputation of being a respectable member of society, but before I shrive yours or any man's wife — Heaven forgive me ! — I'll kiss her." ' * No !' and George roared with laughing till the room rang again, ' No, that is the man In a sentence. He merits Immense kv^o^. Kiss the duchess ! and he actually said that to the duke ? ' 'Who was so relieved by the discovery that they have been firm friends ever since ; but Mr Sivewright is very clever you know.' And Mrs Desborough gave a little sigh. ' It is all an invention, Minnie, a horrid Table Talk, 29 country side fabrication. I can't think how you can circulate it. George, pass the wine. ' Still the squire looked amused. He scarcely wished it not to be true. * I'll ask Sivewright about it the first time I am with him alone/ put in George. * Kiss the duchess ! Well she is tempting enough. Do you think the duke would let me try ? ' ' My dear George ! you don't imagine for a moment that Mr Sivewright really did mean to kiss her ; he is far too correct. It is only a little playful way he has of strengthening his words by a practical allusion ; and Mrs Desborough looked the very incarnation of prudery, which only, however, called forth another fit of tempestuous hilarity from her son. * The dear credulous mother ! she be- lieves in the sanctity of every sinner — even in mine, I do think.' ' I don't know about you, but I feel quite 30 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. sure about Mr Sivewright,' she said, rising and going towards the door. George sprang up to open it for her, giving her a hearty kiss as she passed him. During the temporary amusement Mat- thew had been forgotten, but he put himself in evidence at that moment by appearing suddenly at the other end of the hall. * Why, George, when did you come ? ' he called out as he saw his brother. 'And you, you truant, where have you been ? ' Yes, where had Matthew been ? There was a flush on his cheeks and a light in his eyes, which even Mrs Desborough failed to read, anxiously and inquiringly though she looked at him. CHAPTER III, LOVES YOUNG DREAM. T is an oppressively warm, almost sultry afternoon. Storm clouds veil the sun, and all nature seems lazy, inert, and at rest. The very insects have ceased their buzzing and their gambols, the birds their twittering and their flight. Shelter from the coming rain is the in- stinctive craving of all living creation, ex- cepting evidently the human, for a girl is wandering slowly through a little copse which ' skirts the road, as fringe upon a petticoat.' She seems totally regardless of the large rain drops which are already pattering among the leaves above her head. Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Perhaps she deHghts in storm and wind and wet ; yet she is scarcely a girl of a daring type — there is neither fire nor deter- mination in her countenance ; she is simply a modest-looking Saxon maiden on whom the good fairy who presided at her birth had bestowed prettiness, rather than power for a gift. Pink and white and flaxen sweet-faced Claire Bailey has not a few admirers among the male youth of the county ; yet she is very retiring and modest, scarcely seems to recognise the fact that she is thought pretty, and never gives pert answers as do some of her intimate friends and playmates. It is evident that Claire is returning from some errand of mercy, for she is carrying a tin can and a basket, both of which have once been filled with this world's good things. But it is scarcely probable that Claire's poor neighbours have provided the thoughts on which she is dwelling so Loves Young Dreaiu. 33 profoundly, that she does not heed the rain clouds threatening overhead, nor the electric fluid charging, almost to suffocation, the autumnal breeze. All living beings, however, are not so inactive as Claire and the insects and the birds, for a horse and rider come clattering along the road as though deter- mined, by their example, to wake all nature into life. To a degree they succeed, for Claire returns suddenly from dreamland, and looks across the underwood dividing the path along which she is idling from the high road. The rider stops so unexpectedly as to bring his horse almost down on his haunches. A deep blush suffuses the young girl's white brow, a blush which has not even cleared off when the man leaps off his horse, quiets the half- frightened animal, and scrambles with the bridle on his arm across the bushes to her side. * Why, Claire, what are you doing out in this weather ? It is raining hard.' VOL. I. c 34 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, 'Is it?' And either from shyness or some other cause, she seems afraid to an- swer him ; yet he is not such a terrible in- dividual. Most women would have thought him a handsome young fellow. He is just five-and-twenty, tall and well made, almost an athlete in proportion, with curl- ing brown hair and large expressive eyes. The sort of man of whom boarding-school misses would say, 'Is he not sweet ? ' And yet Claire — poor timid little Claire — seems afraid of him. She does find just a little voice though, to whisper fluster- ingly,— ' If it is raining should you not go home, or come up to the house ? Mamma will be glad to see you.* * Since when have you been so careful of my health, Miss Claire ? ' The colour was deeper than ever now, the voice more inaudible. ' Have you not been very ill ? ' Lcves Young D7'ea7n. 35 * Oh, yes ; but I have been quite well for weeks. I should have been to call on you — I mean on Lady Laura — before, only — ' The girl looked a query. * I thought I was not wanted.' There was a short silence, for she did not contradict him, during which Matthew Des- borough gazed at the young lady with his curly head just a little on one side, and won- dered. They were very old friends these two, friends from early childhood, when Matthew, who was a few years Claire's senior, used to play the part of patronising elder brother. To her he was Even as a brother — but no more ; 'twas much, For brotherless she was, save in the name Her infant friendship had bestowed upon him. While he, as years passed on, and boy- hood erew to manhood, learnt his first love lesson as he one day saw Claires dainty feet tripping from boulder to boulder 36 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. across a stream. Matthew was an impetu- ous youth, and like wild-fire the new feeling increased till its demonstrative character frightened the timid Claire, and she said she would have no more of Matthew Des- borough for a friend — still less for a lover, for he terrified and bewildered her. Twice had he pleaded his suit in urgent passion- ate words ; each time she had fled from him like a scared lapwing to the parent nest, and he had been compelled either * to eat his heart ' in solitude, or rush incon- sequently into other pursuits, loving more desperately, because thwarted in his love, vainly seeking to forget. The rain began to pour in torrents. What was to be done ? All chance of get- ting to the house without being wet through was quite hopeless. An overhanging elm a few yards off was the only shelter the situation afforded. The man bade his fair acquaintance run there at once, and began Loves Young Di^eaTu. to coax his horse through the bracken, a proceeding which the animal did not regard very kindly. At last, however, horse and man are once more standing beside Claire, who evidently dislikes the present position of affairs quite as much as does her equine companion. * Had I not better go home ? What will mamma think ? ' she asks nervously. * That you are safe in Goody Morris's cottage, where, I suppose, you have been. At any rate it is quite impossible for you to walk across the open park in such a down- pour as this. I shall not think of allow- ing it' She looked up at him and smiled — pro- bably the magisterial tone of the last part of the speech amused her. The most un- queenlike, the least pretentious of women will fain assume little airs of sovereignty when she finds herself reigning with despotic sway over an adoring lord of creation ; but 3 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. she caught an expression in his eye which made her instantly look down again and blush as she had done once before. Matthew Desborough, who, It was evident, had learned to serve two masters, since he was not only a disciple of Lently, but also a votary of Cupid, took her hand — somewhat of a daring measure, all circumstances being considered ; she did not attempt to withdraw it, however, but stood looking very frightened and flushed. ' Can it be possible, Claire, that I am so wholly indifferent to you as you would have me to believe ? ' ' I don't know,' she said almost inaudibly. It was a silly answer, but it served to raise by many degrees the thermometer of Matthew Desborough's spirits, for he looked radiant, and the large eyes beamed with delight. This disciple of Lently's then could think of earthly love, or was it from the supposed absence of human affection that he had become a disciple of Lently ? Who shall Loves Voting Dream. 39 say ? It is a question involving many subtle workings of the mental machinery. His next remark, at all events, was mundane enough, for he asked, quoting Benedict, cheerily, — ' And pray, then, now tell me for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?' The lady, however, lacked Beatrice's spirit, for she answered very simply, — ' When I heard you were ill I was so afraid you would die.' ' Claire ! ' and his arm encircled her waist before she had time to stop it, even if she would. 'Is it true, then, you do really love me just a little ? ' Claire's timid lips refused to utter any more words, but she hid her face on his shoulder, and drops fell there that came not from the clouds above, though Matthew Desborough deemed them heaven-sent. He had already descended many degrees from the 40 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, summit of Lently's goodness-standard. And thus it happened that he was a truant from the family dinner-table, for thunder showers do not clear off quickly, and before there was a rainbow in the sky and a bright gleam of happy sunshine in Claire's face, the dinner- bell must have long since rung at Vantage Park. The inmates of Swanover Cottage, where Claire and her mother. Lady Laura Bailey, lived, were not so ambitious in their habits ; they dined at two o'clock, contenting them- selves in the evening, when alone, with that highly indigestible and especially feminine meal — a meat tea. About seven o'clock, when it was already beginning to grow dusk, Matthew was carry- ing the can and basket, with the bridle on his arm, giving Prig occasionally an encour- aging word — though naturally the chief of his attention was bestowed on Claire — astonish- ing the horse, who was unaccustomed to such Loves Voting Drea^n. 41 vagaries on the part of his master, not a little. He was however at last In the open, when a fresh eccentricity was in store for Prig. Matthew Insisted that Claire should mount him, while he led him carefully at walking pace ; the long rain-charged grass would wet her frivolous boots through in no time, he declared. Vainly she assured him they were very thick — even clumped. It was useless. Matthew, in his new position of accepted lover, would have his own way. Lady Laura was at the drawing-room window ' when they arrived. She opened it, and looked at them with a half-comical, half-surprised expression on her comely face. Left a widow when she was very young, she had by no means passed the attractive age ; but she was old fashioned enough, she explained, to grow prematurely old when her husband died, and she had since then devoted herself solely to Claire, who was her Idol. Perhaps there was no Sackcloth and Broadcloth. dearer wish in Lady Laura's heart than that her child should become Matthew Desborough's wife. She held his character in high esteem, and did not perceive the priggishness which George contemned, or the volatility of disposition of which Mr Sivewright was fully conscious. So she received them graciously, but with much tact, making no allusion to the change she instinctively felt had taken place In their mutual relations. * Come in both of you, at once. Are you very wet ? ' she asked eagerly. * I have had some fire lighted, as I thought my Claire would be cold. So good of you to put her on your horse, Matthew. Ben will take him round to the stables. Come In and tell me all your adventures. And thus, without more words, they both went together Into Lady Laura's pretty drawing-room, where Claire was petted with a mother's tenderest care, and Matthew Loves Yoinig Dream. 43 was not reminded that it was six months since he had crossed the threshold of Swan- over Cottage. They gave an account of how they had accidentally met as the rain was beeinnine, thouofh it was but a bald and halting tale at which the mother smiled. Perhaps her imagination filled with bright colouring the seeming weak places. ' Run away and take your hat off, Claire, love, and then we will go into the dining- room and see if we can't refresh this hungry man.' Claire wanted no second bidding. How glad she was of five minutes' solitude, during which she vainly strove to arrange into some order the tumultuous feelings circling round her heart. She had scarcely closed the door when Matthew rushed up to Lady Laura, and taking both her hands said excitedly, — 'You will give me Claire, dear Lady Laura — say you will. She has consented to 44 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. love me, and I shall take such care of her. I shall have some money eventually, my mother's fortune, you know ; but, of course, we sha'n't be married till I have taken orders and — ' * Stop, my dear Matthew, not so fast — you take my breath away. She has con- sented to love you, you say ? That is an odd phrase. What does it mean ? I must, cross-question my little Claire. I thought it was arranged she did not care for you.' * Oh, that was long ago, before she un- derstood her own feelings.' * And you have been trying to instruct her in them. So, so, I must go farther into this matter and have a talk with Claire.' ' But if Claire wishes it you will consent, will you not, dear Lady Laura ? ' ' Well, between you, I suppose I shall be compelled. We poor chicken - pecked Loves Young Dreain. 45 mammas have no alternative but to obey. But I don't feel so sure about Claire/ ' Oh, that is all right. I am not afraid of her now if you don't object.' ' A thunder-shower seems indeed to have cleared the air,' said Lady Laura laughing, as at this moment Claire, looking very bright and happy, popped her head in at the door. ' Tea is quite ready, mamma,' but she was gone again before either her mother or Matthew had time to stop her. The presence of the servant in the dining- room was the safeguard she sought to shelter her from the otherwise inevitable explana- tion. Before the homely repast was over it had proved itself unnecessary to the mother's heart. Claire's eyes had told their own tale. Some half-hour later Matthew was sud- denly overcome by the recollection that his family would be anxious at his unusual ab- 46 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. sence. Prig was brought round from the stables, and both the ladies went out to see him mount. ' I think you may reckon on me for a coadjutrix,' said Lady Laura in a low voice, as she shook hands with him, while Claire fondled the horse, kissing his brown velvet nose with a sort of approximate affection, * for once in your life I do believe you have read the signs aright.' When George learns what eventful episode made his brother late for dinner, it will pro- bably afford him even more merriment than the account of Mr Sivewright's passage-at- arms with the duke. CHAPTER IV. MONTARLIS CASTLE. E is a duke ; but he might be a cobbler/ is a stricture not in- frequently passed on William, seventh Duke of Montarlis, Marquis of Suthorne, Earl of Brently, and Baron Gold- ford as says Burke. Sitting at the bottom of his own table, he certainly presents no very imposing appearance. ' Cunning and common,' were well chosen epithets were he an ordinary man ; but he is a duke, so they are magnified into ' dis- tinguished and discerning.' The duke was not a young man ; he was considerably over sixty before he inherited the 48 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. family title, having been up to that time plain Mr Scivener, the offshoot of a very remote branch of the ducal house of Montarlis. To a degree he was sensible of his own shortcomings, both in appearance and in the capability, for all at once assuming the position of one of England's greatest nobles. He had therefore judged it expedient to bestow his hand and dukedom on a lady who, herself but the daughter of a rich com- moner, yet was well qualified in every re- spect to fill a duchess's place, wearing his honours with little sovereign airs, and dis" pensing her hospitalities with a knowledge of amalgamation and combination of which the duke was totally ignorant. She was a white- skinned, fleshy woman, about thirty. She had been married a little over three years, and fashionable gossips said she had decidedly been fast herself before her marriage, though no one could exactly attribute any particular scandal to Montarlis Castle. 49 her name, probably from the fact that she had very quiet manners, and a ' don't under- stand ' look in her large eyes. Be it as it might, since she had become Duchess of Montarlis, she had followed a discreet path. Perhaps she was just a little afraid of stum- blinof back into old habits, and had therefore selected the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright as confidant and counsellor — a strong rock on which to lean without the fear of brittle pieces breaking off at those inconvenient moments when she most wanted support. Especially since she had returned from Italy, now more than a year ago, had the duchess clung to Mr Sivewright, much to the secret dissatisfaction of Mrs Desborough, who could have forgiven everything in the 'dear duchess,' save this attempt to monopolise the vicar. While the duchess had been abroad she had made or rather renewed acquaintance with a Mrs Tremayne, who had since then been a tolerably constant visitor at Mont- VOL. I. D 5C Sackcloth and Broadcloth. arlis Castle. She was a widow, a year or two younger than the duchess, in the full zenith of attractiveness and intrigue. A brunette, with laughing eyes and bright warm colouring — this fashionable, dashing siren kept the house-party alive with her laughter and her jokes, while the neighbours muttered little ' Ohs ! ' and ' Ahs ! ' in sup- pressed tones — * she was scarcely the woman they would have imagined the duchess would have selected for her familiar friend.' It had been explained by the word ' playmate,' still an uncomfortable feeling hung about the intimacy, as though the duchess were not altogether a free agent in the matter. Mr Sivewright and the lady in question constantly had little spars, owing possibly to some degree of jealousy with which each one regarded the other's influence in high quarters. To Mrs Desborough, who by some fortuitous circumstances had not yet met Mrs Tremayne, the occasional accounts Montarlis Castle. 51 she received of these battles were indeed treats, and she was fully prepared to worship at the Tremayne shrine when they should be introduced at the ducal dinner party. Scarcely, however, did she expect such a bewildering little woman as the gay young widow proved, with her dazzling complexion, her brilliant eyes, her pearly teeth, and her toilette. The Maison Roger might well be proud of such a master- work of diaphanous pink — yet she sued in forma pauperis , asking always for indulgence in her vain efforts to vie with ducal riches. * It is so dreadful to have rich friends. I am at my wits' end ; and quite at my purses' end too for the matter of that,' she had con- fided to Mrs Desborough when, the long dinner being over, they were sitting having a little woman's talk before the advent of the gentlemen. ' I am always telling dear Julia she should let me go back to my doll's house, for I have LIBRARY It T »«mfC 5 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. a doll's house of my own. Oh ! it is tiny. However, if Julia wants me, of course I must remain for the sake of auld lang syne. Heigho!' And fringed lashes veiled her dazzling eyes, but for all that she failed to look sub- dued or sentimental. For a second or two Mrs Desborough had time to wonder what it all meant. Then Mrs Tremayne looked up once more, and the flush came back. * Isn't Julia handsome ? And doesn't she look every inch a duchess. I always said she was born for an exalted position instead of—' Mrs Desborough looked a query. * A miserable, petty lot like mine,' went on the chatterbox, whose first idea had obviously been a different one. ' I admire the duchess immensely,' Mrs Desborough began. ' There is something so very distinguished in her bearing, and she is so very — ' Montarlis Castle, 53 * Chic, cachet, and all that sort of thing — yes,' and Mrs Tremayne laughed rip- pingly ; ' particularly when you compare her with her surroundings. This room is a perfect museum of oddities. Do tell me who some of them are.' ' The lady in black with the dried-up face is Mrs Lancelot Cairns ; the girl in brown is her daughter. They are very worthy people — do an immense amount of good.' * Do they ? What a pity they ever leave off. I am sure they are doing no good here. And the bright green woman by the piano ? I hope she is not going to sing.' * She is a Miss Chiffonal. Her father sat by you at dinner.' ' Just so. He drew me ; was it not bad luck ? Do you like the practice here of drawing lots for your dinner partner ? It is rather fun standing at the door with the hat. I feel as if I was making a quete in 54 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. a church — in fact, it is the only time that I ever feel really good.' ' I think I like the old plan of precedence best,' observed Mrs Desborough. ' This one must inevitably lead to a good deal of ill-feeling.' ' Squabbles without end. I'll tell you such an amusing one. Mr Sivewright was the hero. You know Mr Sivewright, of course ? ' Mrs Desborough's soft laces fluttered. ' Our very dear vicar. Certainly I know Mr Sivewright' *Ah! Naturally you and he would sym- pathise ; but he does not approve of me. I shock him. I have had an odd education, Mrs Desborough, or rather none at all. I was dragged up in a sort of fashion.' ' Were you brought up in France ? ' * Well, yes, partly,' and Mrs Tremayne laughed. ' But never mind that. A few nights ago when your vicar was dining Montarlis Castle, 55 here he drew me. I saw it as plainly as if Violet Tremayne had been written on his brow. Of course, he thought that luck would be sure to favour a parson in the game of speculation, and that he would draw the duchess.' This time Mrs Desborough's lace grew ruffled, and little points seemed to show themselves. * Well, our mutual friend walked away without uttering a word, and left me to finish my partner-lottery. The last straggler, a man they call Adonis Valmont, came in just before the dinner was announced. I presented him with the last ticket and put down the hat. Too much engaged in twist- ing his moustache to look at his paper, he sauntered on to the hearthrug when I saw — actually saw — him change it with Mr Sive- wright for coin — half-a-crown, I believe. It was the duchess — that I also saw on Mr Sivewright's face.' 56 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' *' Bribery and corruption," I said, walk- ing up to him, " are not permitted. I am the genius of the hat." ' * " And I have the honour of taking you into dinner," said Adonis Valmont.' ' '* No, Mr Valmont, I decline ; you are to take the duchess. Give back that half- crown ; we are not going to be bought and sold like merchandise. Come, Mr Sive- wright, I'll answer for it — you shall be punished here if you think you won't be there," pointing downwards of course.' Mrs Desborough laughed and looked very beaming, though of course she protested. * Mr Sivewright could not do such a thing,' she said. ' He'll do anything not to be bored,' answered the other ; ' and there is no mis- take about the fact he was bored that night. I would not even argue with him ; I never spoke, and he had got a deaf mummy on the other side. I hope he liked it, anyhow Montarlis Castle. 57 he will not throw me over again, and the next time he draws me I shall decline to go with him, if I go to bed without my dinner.' * So it is war to the knife between you and the vicar. I did not know he was of so belligerent a turn. Do you really dislike him ? ' ' I ? No. He is a sort of clerical ano- maly that amuses me ; but I never put up with slights from men — but here come the gentlemen. I'll go and sing them in before Miss Chiffonal gets possession of the in- strument.' And in a second or two the atmosphere of the room seemed filled with ripples from Violet Tremayne's liquid voice. Mr Sivewright dropped into the vacant place by Mrs Desborough. ' How beautifully she sings ; how charm- ing she is,' said the lady. She felt she could afford to praise. 58 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Yes, but she is too overpowering — a rest- less, excitable woman. She has no repose. She does not understand the present moment ; enjoyment with her consists in anticipating what is going to happen in an hour. I don't think I ever met any one who tried all my senses like Mrs Tremayne.' * Who was she ? ' Mr Sivewright shrugged his shoulders. ' She is not in Burke, I fancy. She and the duchess knew each other as girls ; it is almost a pity they met again.' * They are of very different natures, hence the sympathy, I presume,' said Mrs Des- borough in a little prim way she had at times. ' Perhaps ; the duchess decidedly gains by the contrast. Oh ! how infinitely I prefer quiet reposeful women. There is something so much more sympathetic about them. Look at the duchess as she moves now from one to another of her guests. Queen-like, swan- Montarlis Castle. 59 like, undulating — that is the perfection of feminine grace ; and that clinging white satin — see how it sets off the contour of her figure.' ' Are you joking, Mr Sivewright ? ' asked Mrs Desborough, to whom these rhapsodies on another woman's charms were most un- pleaslng. It was the first time too, the vicar had ever talked to her In this strain ; but on this occasion he had sat very near the duchess at dinner, and the duke's cham- pagne was of the best. Nor did Mrs Des- borough's frowns deter him from persisting in the assertion that 'her grace of Mon- tarlis was a magnificent woman — a mon- strous fine woman.' Yes, she had chosen wisely when she had selected the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright for an ally, and Mrs Desborough was begin- ning to fear that her longer friendship with the vicar was crumbling away from its very antiquity — for that probably her twenty 6o Sackcloth and Broadcloth. years of priority in age were beginning to tell. Mrs Desborough had, however, learned the discretion of silence ; only by the sharp quick movement of her face were her feel- inors visible. After a second she recovered herself completely, and smiled benignly on the vicar. During that second she had resolved to hold her ground, and perhaps she thought a tilt with a duchess were no mean warfare. * In matters of taste you are infallible,' she said blandly. ' No one can gainsay that the duchess is beautiful — to-night looking more than usually so — and that she has wonderfully good style ; but still, for all that, I am vastly taken with Mrs Tremayne's laughing face and laughing manners. She is like a beam of sunshine on a winter's day.' Thus it was clearly manifest that Mrs Desborough had the intention to cultivate the acquaintance of Violet Tremayne, and Alontarlis Castle. 6i through her means to strengthen the intimacy between MontarHs Castle and Vantage Park. Always be on the most sociable and loving terms with people of whom you have sufficient fear to be jealous. Mrs Desborough had lived long enough in the world, and studied its ways sufficiently close, to be thoroughly cognisant of this fact. Her patience with Mr Sivewright in his present mood, however, was nearly ex- hausted — though she did not wish to show it — so she got up and walked towards the piano, meeting her hostess half way across the room. * Dear duchess, that charming friend of yours is too delightful ; and how she sings ! ' ' Yes. Violet is a good little thing, and is always ready to please and be useful.' But the duchess's brow clouded as though praise bestowed, even by a woman, on Violet Tremayne were scarcely pleasing to her. 'Will you drive over to luncheon, and 62 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. bring her with you some day soon ? ' went on Mrs Desborough. ' You have not been to see me for so long/ 'Yes, with pleasure, it will be something new for Violet ; she is always craving for new excitements.' * George has come home/ said Mrs Des- borough. ' And the dear boy has no end of funny stories — some of them very amus- ing.* * Indeed ! George is a great favourite of mine. He is so fresh and racy. I am sorry I did not know. I should have asked him to come to-night. Shall we say Tuesday for luncheon ? Tell your son I shall count on his being at home.* Mrs Desborough was radiant. She could not guess the thought that lay beneath that serene voice ; it had its existence nevertheless. ' If only George Desborough would marry Violet Tremayne.* CHAPTER V. THE CHURCH OR THE HOME. KALTE la! impetuous youth/ oj ^^ ^ And Matthew, who was walk- ^ ing with rapid strides down the carriage drive at Vantage Park, found him- self suddenly arrested by the appearance of an umbrella in front of him. ' Ah ! Mr Sivewright, I was going to call on you.' ' Indeed ! ' and the vicar's eyebrows arched. It was not often Matthew turned his steps towards Fernwood Vicarage. * Yes ; I did not wish you to hear of my en- gagement to Miss Bailey from any one else.' ' Your engagement to Miss Bailey ? Mrs 64 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Desborough did not tell me,' and the vicar looked as surprised as a man of his calibre could permit himself to look. ' No, no ; my mother does not approve. Besides, I begged her to be silent for the present. But you do not congratulate me.' ' My dear Matthew, to see you comfort- ably ensconced as paterfamilias in some snug country parsonage were indeed a matter for congratulation could I believe it possible ; but I thought you were vowed to celibacy and all that sort of thing.' ' Not at all — not at all. If such were my views I might as well go to Rome at once.' ' Oh ! I don't pretend to have a lens sufficiently clear to detect the miscroscopic line which defines the boundaries of the two faiths. In my private opinion it is non-existent — a mere optical delusion.' * One must be allowed to exercise a little private judgment, pleaded Matthew, ' where- as in Rome — ' The CIm7^ch or the Home. 65 * Pooh ! nonsense, my dear young friend. There is no middle way — faith or reason. As soon as you begin to exercise the latter the first disappears. You are only cheating yourself by trying to take the kernels out of both nuts. A married father-confessor is an anomaly, though, if you follow my advice, you'll stick to matrimony, and give up all this new-fangled nonsense.' * You foro^et that Claire entertains the same views.' ' Oh ! yes, silly children both of you. You'll grow wiser as you grow older. Your mother does not approve of the marriage, you say, and wherefore ?' ' She thinks we are both too young, and, moreover, upon my word I hardly like to tell you, but, in short, she hints that it is the result of some manoeuvre on the part of Lady Laura.' ' While it is entirely a matter of spontaneous combustion, eh ? Well, I must have a few VOL. I. E 66 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. words with Mrs Desborough on the sub- ject.' * You will — you will tell her that you think it highly, intensely advantageous for us both ; that it would be cruel and unkind to do any- thing to prevent it.' ' Stop, stop ! I am not going to pledge my- self to any wild extravagancies. It is more probable that you will have to bring a little more common sense to bear on the acts of your daily life. Fewer visions and more real practical working will be expected from a man who has saddled himself with the onus of matrimony.' ' Not even for Claire can I deny my faith,' said Matthew fervently. ' Your faith ! Well, well, well, we shall see which is stronger, love or fear.' And Mr Sivewright leant gracefully against a rustic seat which chanced to be close by. * Fear, Mr Sivewright, fear ! What do you mean } ' TliC CJmrcn oj^ the Home. 67 * It is excessive selfishness that makes all you fellows so perverse and argumenta- tive. If you were not afraid of eternal punishment you would talk in a very different strain.' ' And are not you afraid of eternal punish- ment, Mr Sivewright ? ' and Matthew looked horrified and aghast. ' I ? I hope I have too unbounded a belief in the power and goodness and wonderful benevolence of Heaven.' ' Perhaps you don't think we shall be punished at all ? ' Mr Sivewright shrugged his shoulders. * Let each follow his own conscience, and trim, to the best of his power, the lamp which illumes it, and don't let us trouble our heads about an unknown future, which is more in- explorable than even the Arctic regions to which, by the way, do you observe a new Government expedition is about to start ? ' ' More energy is displayed in connection 6 8 Sackcloth a7id Broadcloth. with the things of this Hfe than about the great matters of eternity ! ' exclaimed Mat- thew fiercely. He was very irate at what he considered Mr SIvewright's levity. ' And yet the great Creator gave us to enjoy, or why this beautiful earth, these riches of nature and art by which we are surrounded ? Your creed seems to me so suppressive of all natural enjoyment, that if for no other reason I should condemn it. It is no use to set our religious standard too high, my young friend ; we are but human, and are apt to get dizzy on a height. You are at this moment in danger of toppling over ; Claire versus Creed — something of a desperate con- flict I expect. Of course you will follow Mr Lently's advice, so I will withhold any farther counsel for the present, and go and pay my respects to Mrs Desborough.* And they parted, the vicar muttering to himself — ' Wise woman, Mrs Desborough ; but who The Church or the Hoine. 69 so wise as a woman in diplomacy ? She thwarts this boy because, forsooth, she wishes him to marry. I have taken the cue, I think, and Lently will find a restive pupil when next he and Master Matthew regale themselves with a little disputation.' The vicar was right. He had sown the seeds of discord in Matthew's mind, for he too went mutterinor down the avenue, — ' Why should I not marry ? Who has any right to stop me ? Am I not a free agent ? Lently — Sivewright — what bosh ! I shall do as I please. I shall see Lently at once and tell him what I think. He is married. Bother Sivewright ! he is always so con- sumedly satirical.' So, instead of the ceremonious visit which Matthew felt himself in duty bound to pay to the old family friend, when he got outside the park gates he vaulted a stile, crossed some fields with hasty steps, walked a good half-mile down a rutty green lane, then over JO Sackcloth and Broadcloth, some more fields, till the spire of a pretty village church was visible, and close to the church a gabled parsonage-house, snugly- built among elm trees. Ravensholme Vicarage was less preten- tious than its sister of Fernwood, but it was homely and comfortable-looking, if only its internal arrangements had not contradicted external signs. As Matthew approached, screams from young voices met his ears — not the happy joyous yells of exulting childhood, but the discordant, hideous outcry of spoiled, un- manageable, discontented brats. Matthew was a privileged individual ; he had free admission at all hours into Ravensholme Vicarage, and he used it now, for he walked straiofht in at the back-door, and came abruptly on the scene of the affray. Mrs Lently — for the Rev. Luke, notwith- standing his tendencies, was a married man — Mrs Lently was standing slipshod, in The Chtcrch or the Home. 7 1 a state of greasy d^shabilld, among her pro- geny, who were all squalling round her, while she strove vainly to raise her voice in angry tones, so as to be heard above the general uproar. Neither her own un- groomed condition nor the generally unruly state of the establishment seemed, however, to affect her, for she turned to Matthew with a smile on her broad, kindly face, — * Quiet them for me, Mr Matthew, will you ? You are the only one who can.' These words were conveyed more by signs than sound, for the youngsters' clamour in- creased when they saw Matthew, who very frequently indulged them in a game of romps. At the present moment, however, his mind was too much bent on his own affairs to be very indulgent for the little Lentlys' short- comings. ' I'd smack every white head of you if I were your mother,' he said sharply. ' Cease this din instantly, or I'll never race you round 72 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, the garden again, or take you up to the park to dimb the mulberry tree.' Matthew looking angry was an unusual sight, and so impressed the children that they left off howling to stare at him. Master Bobbie, a four-year-old, was the first to break the silence. With his thumb well in his mouth he heaved a deep sigh, while two tears stopped half way down his cheeks, as though they too wondered what had happened, and when he had looked at Matthew for a few seconds, he said senten- tiously, — * Bobbie bad boy ! Bobbie must go to black place. Bobbie be dood for sweets.' Matthew turned from the group of chil- dren and looked out of the window. ' Bribery and fear,' he repeated to himself. How unbidden thoughts will force them- selves — how involuntary is at times the action of the mind ; his recent conversation with Mr Sivewright was paramount. But the children having speedily recovered The Ch2i7'ch or the Home. "ji their natural buoyancy, clamoured round him for play, and thus disputed the possession of him with his thoughts. For a few minutes they were successful ; but Matthew's feelings had been too deeply stirred for him to lay them long on one side at infantine bidding. Mrs Lently perhaps noticed a pre-occupied look on his brow, for she rang the bell. A maid, wearing earrings and dirty ribands, answered the summons. ' Take them all away Susan, every one,' said the mistress pettishly. This order was the signal for another out- break from the youngsters ; but among much weeping and kicking and shrieking they were at last conveyed, to Matthew's no small satisfaction, to the nursery. * Mr Lently is out. Do you want to see him ? ' asked the lady, as soon as the door was closed. Out ! of course he was. What man could stand such a household ? So instead of his 74 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. club he took to what he called parochial work. Stop a moment though. Reverse the picture. May it not be because he is always out that his home has become a pandemonium ? And when he does come In his martyr-like appearance and general con- demnation of everything that is pleasant or cheery do not contribute largely to the gaiety of the establishment. He married when he was very young a w^oman some years older than himself. They were Ill- assorted in every way. He was unpractical, visionary, and theoretical ; while she was a pretty doll, plastic in mind as the wax from which her body seemed to have been moulded. Mrs Lently would have followed any path that had been shown her clearly and practically ; but she was totally incapable of selecting one for herself, and failed utterly in reaching her husband's high flights. In the early part of their married life he had spread his pinions and soared above the earth in a good many The CJi2i7'cJi or the Home. 75 different directions, till he had at last flapped his wino-s into the Ritualistic course. His wife tried to accompany him, but after several futile attempts she floundered hope- lessly. There were the children, the dreadful ser- vants, the house-bills, the mendings, the cleanings, and, worse than all, there was an incompetent head that never could arrange the simplest plan or carry out unassisted the merest trifle. So Mrs Lently never found time to go to her husband's week-day ser- vices, but led an untidy tangled life, in which nothing was begun at the beginning or finished up to the end ; and while the Rev. Luke Lently's church decorations and services were remarked on as more ambitious and advanced than those of any other divine in those parts ; while his teaching, in spite of his belief in purgatory, left no middle way for imperfec- tion, his home afforded a theme for specu- lation, and made people remark how fre- 76 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. quently experiment fails to prove theory. All his neighbours admitted readily that Mrs Lently was a well-intentioned, simple-minded woman, and it was weakness of purpose, not vicious inclination, that made her a slattern and a peevish whining grumbler. For natures such as hers, the Rev. Luke Lently's religious code had not provided. She never even succeeded in understanding the dogmas he was perpetually enumerating ; so she contented herself with setting him down in her own private calendar as a saint, and following the cursory unmethodi- cal way of her own very earthly life, nag- ging off the roughest bits by means of her tongue, as though the sound of her own voice were a consolation to her. Matthew Desborough and Mrs Lently were on very friendly terms. He himself was somewhat halting in determination, and he had consequently a certain amount of fellow-feeling for her shortcomings, not unfre- The Chit7'cJi or the Home, 77 quently doing her a good turn in the way of helping her out of some difficulty, about which the great Lently would not have allowed himself to be troubled. He had not, however, sufficient respect for her sagacity to make her his confidante on this occa- sion, scorching though the words were which burnt his tongue impatient to be uttered. He walked up and down the room ex- citedly, every now and then fidgeting with the things on the mantel-shelf or table in a way that would have made most women chide him ; but Mrs Lently was accustomed to Matthew's vagaries. She took no notice, only chatted on in a maudlin sort of way about the petty worries of her every-day existence, and gave the usual catalogue raisonde of children, servants, breakages, butcher's bills, etcetera. She was inter- rupted at last by a sudden question from Matthew. 73 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Does Lently ever go to Lady Laura Bailey's ? ' ' Yes, sometimes, I think ; and Miss Bailey comes here pretty often, and is so nice with the children. She used to come here every day when you were ill. It is a pity you have quarrelled with the Baileys, Mr Matthew.' He coloured up, and answered rapidly, — * Who said I had quarrelled with them ? Why did you not tell me Claire had been here ? ' ' Oh ! because she told me not. I can't think how it slipped out now, but I am a poor thing at keeping a secret. She is so good. Do you remember when the children had measles, and then Jane took them too, and cook had a bad leg. There was I left as usual without a living being to do the work, and Luke saying I ought to go to church at eight, and again in the afternoon. Of course I know I ought, but how could The Church or the Ho7ne. 79 I ? It's only idle people that will get to Heaven if church is to take them there — that is what I tell Luke ; but of course he is a saint ; he can't understand my difficulties.' ' Well, and Claire Bailey ? ' interrupted Matthew. ' Oh ! she came and helped me — actually made puddings and gruel for the babies with her own hands. Ah ! I wish I was like Miss Bailey. The place used to look quite different after she had been here an hour or so. But I never could be tidy. My poor mother used to say — ' ' And Claire came every day and did these things ? Where was I ? ' ' Oh ! you were ill, and then you went abroad. I don't suppose you ever even heard of the trouble we were in here. I don't know what I should have done with- out that angel, for Luke is nothing at — ' ' And Claire was not afraid of catching 8o Sackcloth and Broadcloth. the measles ? ' asked Matthew, anxious to keep Mrs Lently from wandering. * Not she. When is she ever afraid for herself when there is good to be done ? I had hoped, Mr Matthew, that you and she—' * Is not that Lently coming along the road ? ' And Matthew was suddenly desirous to change the subject, for he perceived that it was growing personal. ' Yes, that it is ; and, good gracious ! he had no breakfast before he went out. He said he would have it at twelve. It is now half-past, and I've forgotten to tell the cook.' And away went Mrs Lently to see what sort of an uncomfortable repast could be concocted at a minute's notice for her hungry husband. CHAPTER VI. MR LENTLy's cross. R LENTLY'S private study is small, paper strewn and un- orderly, the latter being the characteristic disposition of everything at Ravensholme Vicarage, both mentally and materially. His sanctum has, however, the merit of being a quiet nook, as far removed as possible from nursery clamour ; while a side door opening on to a little path which leads directly from the garden to the church renders the Rev. Luke an independent agent in his exits and entrances. Matthew is sitting there now, his legs stretched out, his hands clasped together, VOL. I. F 82 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. his brows flushed, his eyes flashing ; in fact there are decidedly feverish tendencies ex- hibiting themselves, and considering how ill he had been a few months back, his mother, and probably Claire, would have thought his present state a highly dangerous one ; but the Rev. Luke Lently has no such scruples, as with a stern look on his ascetic brow he is, to all appearance, holding the knife firmly which is to eradicate what he calls the hankering after worldliness in his young friend and disciple. He is, however, but one of those bungling operators who slash without science. Mr Lently is inflicting a desperate wound which fails nevertheless to touch the supposed disease ; he has reckoned too much on his patient's belief in his advice, without which belief it is said that no real cure is ever effected. Weak natures are not necessarily the most plastic by reason of the very obstinacy that is in them, and for this strongly-developed feature in the neophyte Mr Lentlys Cross. 83 he thought all his own he had not calcu- lated. Ah ! the Rev. Lawrence Sivewrlght, whatever his shortcomings in matters of faith, possessed undoubtedly the larger share of acumen ; there were few dispositions, whatever their peculiar proclivities, that he was incapable of bending if it pleased him to make the attempt. A pity the gift were not bestowed on a holier man, it had been observed, but the laws of compensation are very evenly balanced, and the gift was in itself a trial — a burden on that conscience Mr Sivewright was always striving so man- fully to follow — for was there not hidden away somewhere in his heart a whispering fear lest, in influencing people to his views, he was corrupting them to evil ? for that which seemed truth to him might scarcely fill the void in another soul. But to waive digression. Matthew's last remark, whatever it was, had roused the usually dormant irascibility which was latent in Mr Lently's nature. He 84 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, had been writing for some time with his back turned to his pupil, occasionally writ- ing and occasionally enunciating his dogmas in a phlegmatic sort of way, which, to say the least, was irritating. At this juncture he turned suddenly round and faced the younger man. ' Marry, marry if you will, but renounce at once all claim to ever becoming a true priest. We want no more married clergy to choke up the ranks of the Anglican Church.' Matthew rose, and stood looking doggedly at his opponent. ' I shall marry, of that I am resolved, and I shall take orders too, if it so pleases me when the time comes. I was wrong per- haps to have consulted you, since your own married life seems to have been a mistake.' ' Every married life is a mistake, when a man's first mistress is the Church,' answered Mr Lently. ' I cannot see any difficulty in the com- Mr Lentlys Cross. 85 bination of Church and marriage,' pursued Matthew ; ' it works very well in many in- stances.' ' Claire Bailey, forsooth ! Claire Bailey to be set up against our holy mother Church ! Give her up Matthew, give her up as you value your immortal soul.' ' Pooh, nonsense, Mr Lently, you are mad. You of all men to talk like this.' ' It is because I am what I am that I do talk thus. Do you think my life is not one endless penance for past foolishness. You know better than any man that my home is anything but a happy one, that wife and children rise in continual rebellion against my views and feelings. It is my cross, Matthew, the cross I have had to bear — shall bear to the end — avoid it, my young friend, avoid it. If you have the strength of Samson, it will crush you with its weight.' Matthew thought of the two pilgrims who started on their pilgrimage with peas in 86 Sackcloth a^id^ Bi^oadcloth. their shoes, and how the one who took the precaution to boil his peas arrived with speedy steps and fresh mien at the goal, while the other lagged behind footsore and weary ; but he had too much respect for his pastor to point the allegory, he merely ob- served quietly, his impatience abating as that of Mr Lently increased. * There are various ways of governing a household. Because you and Mrs Lently do not understand each other, it does not follow that every couple should be equally mis-mated.' * It is not the case in point, not the case in point,' thundered the Rev. Luke ; ' it is marriage that is a mistake, not the fact of being linked to any particular woman. A married priest brings a curse down on his house which no prayers nor penances can remove.' 'Yet St Paul writing to Timothy, says that '* a bishop should be the husband Mr Lentlys Cross. 8 7 of one wife — having his children in sub- jection with all gravity. For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"' Mr Lently turned once more to his writing, and then after a second or two, as though he thought a pause would make his words more effective, he said slowly, — ' For they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.' — Rev. xiv. 4. Matthew bit his nails. He had joined the Ritualistic phalanx in order, as he had hinted to Mr Sivewright, to combine ultra faith with its equivalent in self-will, and this determined opposition to his wishes he felt by no means inclined to tolerate. Yet what was to be done ? It was unreasonable and preposterous to expect him to give up Claire, while to turn renegade was equally impossible. No, he must bring all the obstinacy which contradic- tion had awakened within him to bear on the 88 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, matter, and follow the promptings of his own inclination. ' You then really consider that marriage, under the circumstances in which I am placed, would be sin ? ' he asked more for the sake of receiving a definite answer from Mr Lently, than from any intention of being biassed by the same. ' Unquestionably, and one which you will have to expiate by severe penance.' * I accept the penance,' said Matthew very quietly ; * it were worth countless penances to win Claire.' Boanerges could be restrained no longer, he rose and began to pace the tiny room ex- citedly, waving his hands and arms at times in violent gesticulation, while he declaimed at his disciple as though he were practising for platform oratory. ' Is this the result of all my teaching — one more cross that I am called on to bear — to see the strong firm earth on which I had Mr Leiitlys Cross. 89 hoped your feet rested crumbling away beneath the weight of worldliness ? You who I had hoped were called to be a saint, if not a martyr, for the good cause, succumb- ing so soon to the lust of the flesh. Oh, Matthew, return while there is yet time to your first love. *' Behold, thou a7't fair, my love ; behold, thou art fair ; thou hast dovei eyes. Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, and comely ; our bed is flou7nshi7ig. The beams of our house are of cedar, our rafters of cypress trees!' Ah, is she not fair, fairer than the love of woman, our dear and holy mother Church, to whom you gave your first affections, the virgin aspirations of a young and guileless heart ? And now, before the bride you had selected has even received your vows and granted you all the blessings she alone can grant, you have fallen from your first deter- mination to love her alone in all her purity, her beauty, and her grace, and you would already share the adoration you had once re- 90 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. solved to bestow individually on her with a frail, sinning daughter of Eve. Ah ! if you only know how I have regretted — regretted with shudderings and tears, the web I have woven round my own life, although I am fully aware that I had not seen the truth in all its fulness when I took this step. This, this is my only chance of atonement ; but to plunge wilfully, knowingly, into the flagrant sin of disobedience, were an act from which he who would lead a holy life must turn with horror, and from which I would pray — pray fervently, my dear Matthew, that you may be spared. Remember, too, every one who sins extends the image of his sin far beyond the sphere of his personal presence. An example of this nature would not fail to pro- duce such a generation of increasing sin that he who sets it becomes the ancestor, so to speak, of a vast multitude of disobedient and erring souls. Believe me, the truest way to aid the faith which you profess is Mr Lently s Cross. 9 1 to suffer for that faith : resist then, I conjure you, without farther hesitation, this tempta- tion to backsliding — hold firm to your earlier determination, become, God willing, a faithful striving priest, and never let the reproach, hurled at the Church of Ephesus, be hurled against you, " Behold, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love^ ' While this avalanche of words was fallinof on him with such swiftness that they were as one crushing blow, Matthew stood pas- sively wondering. He was used to Mr Lently's high flights and somewhat theatri- cal tirades ; but he could not bring his mind to think that the present occasion warranted the amount of fervour displayed by the over- zealous pastor. When so many clergy were married, why should he be selected as the victim to be offered on the shrine of celi- bacy ; but to ask Mr Lently such a ques- tion in his present mood would, he felt, be worse than useless, so he contented himself 92 Sackcloth a7id Broadcloth. with saying very quietly for him — Matthew- being, as we know, a youth of a hasty, passionate temperament, — ' Your words have scarcely convinced me, but I will take counsel of my own mind, and let you know the result' It was evident the Rev. Luke had lost ground — not gained it. A week ago Mat- thew would not have presumed to dispute his opinion, but would have accepted with blind obedience any dogma, however authori- tative, he had sought to impose. Mr Lently was about to commence a second portion of his wordy discourse, but Matthew took up his hat. ' Please, Mr Lently, no more to-day. I have received as much as I can digest, and having been, moreover, wounded to the quick, I must beg for breathing space to recover my mental equilibrium.' This was scarcely a flattering response to the Rev. Luke's earnest appeal, but he bore Mr Lentlys Cross. 93 it unflinchingly — perhaps he had enough good sense left to recognise that sufficient difficulties had been thrown in Matthew's path — for he only said very unctuously, — ' God be with you, my dear young brother, and give you light by prayer and fasting to discover the truth, and, having done all, to stand.' And so they parted, Matthew, his soft felt hat well pulled over his brows, rolled rather than walked with unsteady gait along the homeward path, for the interview through which he had just passed had fevered his brain and convulsed his reason as though it had possessed the qualities of a potent and ex- citing draught. Suddenly, he stopped and considered. To go back to Vantage and be cross-questioned w^as, he felt, quite im- possible at this moment. Claire's sweet eyes reading into his soul were equally dif- ficult to answer. No, solitude was his only chance of regaining the composure he so 94 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. much required, and he turned into a side walk through a wood, and let his feelings rage at will, while he ' Listened to the wind that now did stir About the crisped oaks full drearily ; Yet with as sweet a softness as might be Remembered for its velvet summer song.' And while Matthew dreamt, time passed on, till growing weary perhaps of his own unsettled train of thought, he roused him- self with an effort and tried to force him- self back into actual and active life. He had been stumbling backwards and forwards, striving to define right and wrong to the satisfaction of his own conscience, till he had become as illogical as a woman. It was useless to pursue the subject farther for the nonce. He would go home and restore his jaded frame with food. What an unpoetical ending to the contemplation of a difficult love problem ! Nature, however, was stronger in Matthew Desborough than romance, and nature demanded alimentary sustenance. Mr Lently s Cross. 95 He arrived at home about four o'clock by a little gate which opened on to the flower garden from a copse ; perhaps he hoped in this way to reach the house without meeting any of his family, if so, he was destined to be disappointed, for George's cheery voice called out, — ' Hullo, Mat, playing truant again; we were thinking of having you tambouring, as they do in France,' and before he could avoid a meeting Matthew found himself in the midst of a gay party, consisting of the Duchess of Montarlis, Mrs Tremayne, Mr Sivewright, his mother and brother. Escape was impossible, so there was no alternative but to conceal as well as he could his mental agitation, and join in the conver- sation which was going on. ' From possessing usually an excitable manner, he succeeded in hiding from every one, excepting Mr Sive- wright, the fact of the general mental overthrow under whfch he was labouring ; but the Rev. 96 Sackcloth a7td Broadcloth. Lawrence v/as far too acute a physiognomist not to read as in an open book the thoughts as they passed flightily through Matthew's brain, and he had no difficulty in supplying all the harassing conflicts through which his mind had passed since their interview in the morning. Mr Sivewright was sorry for Matthew, — he regretted that so much mis- taken zeal should be thrown away on bubbles — and, both for his own and his mother's sake, he would have taken an unusual amount of trouble to save the young man the painful ordeal through which he saw his mind was passing. He must go home, think the matter carefully out, and then have an interview with Mrs Desborough, — and for this reason he declined to remain for dinner, warmly though he was pressed both by the lady of the house and her son George ; ' he had im- portant business,' he said, ' which would employ his entire evening.' And so a few minutes after the duch- Mr Lentlys Cross. 97 ess and Violet Tremayne had been packed Into the pony carriage and had started for MontarHs, Mr Sivewright took his leave, giving Matthew so friendly a hand- shake as to bring the warm colour into his cheeks, though little perhaps recked he how much more the Issues of his future life lay in the hands of Mr Sivewright than in those of the Rev. Luke Lently, his chosen director. Mr Sivewright's power lay in the immense capability he had for weighing the equiva- lents of life, an art In which Mr Lently and Matthew both utterly failed. ' Est modus in rebus ; sunt certi denique fines Ouos ultra citraque requit consistere rectum,' he murmured to himself, quoting his beloved Horace as he walked towards the vicarage. This probably was the text of a sermon he was preparing for Matthew. To men of Mr Sivewright's school, a text is not necessarily biblical. VOL. I. G CHAPTER VII. ADVICE. T is quite true — Matthew has engaged himself to Claire Bailey. I had hoped he would listen to reason and have told no one, not even you,' and Mrs Desborough's laces were very much agitated as she fidgeted from side to side, vainly struggling into a comfortable corner for a talk with the vicar. * Engaged — but not married,' said the vicar smiling — * there seem to be diffi- culties.' ' Indeed there are — my husband can't allow him enough to provide for a wife and family — and though, I am sorry to Advice. 99 say, he must inherit my fortune, still I am not dead yet Mr Sivewright/ and the lady looked sufficiently instinct with life to be accepted as only forty by any life insur- ance company in the kingdom. Mr Sivewright bowed and smiled again — the mother was in a spiteful mood, and Mrs Desborough's spiteful moods invariably made the Rev. Lawrence more unctuous — besides, he had thought the matter out since yesterday, and knew exactly the view he meant to take of the case — than which there is no stronger weapon for argument. ' You object to Claire for a daughter-in- law ; but not to Matthew marrying any- one else, I presume ? ' he asked, but more as though he was stating a fact than asking a question. * To Claire — yes, of course I object to Claire. I suppose you know why ? ' ' Matthew tells me you think them both too young.' I oo Sackcloth a7td Broadcloth. ' Pooh, nonsense — that is mere fiction. I object to Claire, because she Is Lady Laura's daughter, and It has been guerre a outrance between Lady Laura and me ever since we were girls. She always put her- self in some objectionable form between me and the thing I most wanted— even did her utmost with her usual sly deceit to lure from me Mr Desborough's affection.' The vicar's head turned just a little on one side bent into the least perceptible of nods : he was not quite prepared to give full credence to this statement — having always understood that Mrs Desborough had cleverly manoeuvred for the squire, who had been, in the first place, more inclined to admire Lady Laura. It was not that Mrs Desborough was purposely prevari- catlnor to the vicar. She had asserted this fact so frequently both to herself and to other people that she had ended by sincerely and firmly believing It. For years, Advice. loi by a consistent series of snubs and petty rudenesses conferred on the inhabitants of Swanover Cottage, she had acted up to her beHef, for the circumstance that Mr Desborough was always very poHte, as she observed ' quite affectionate to those Bailey's ' — had the effect of some irritant poison on his wife's nature. More parti- cularly was she annoyed at this juncture, for though he did not approve of the fact of Matthew marrying at all, he could not be coerced Into giving it as his opinion that a marriage with Claire was especially ob- jectionable. Thus it may be Inferred that for the last ten days, in fact ever since Matthew and Claire had walked together in the wood, with no other chaperone than Prig, the general tone at Vantage Park had been inharmonious and full of jars ; now, how- ever, that the vicar had undertaken to accord the various tuneless instruments. I02 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. perhaps the home-concert would show a little symphony. ' The sins of the mother being visited on the daughter, eh ? ' he said with a half jocular expression ; but If he meant to joke Mrs Desborough Into a good humour, he was quite unsuccessful, for the latent venom of her nature exhibited Itself viru- lently. ' Claire Is a half-educated doll ! ' she said, * with no cleverness about her, except a talent for manoeuvring, which she has Inherited from her mother.' ' Humph ! I have not altogether under- stood the situation, It seems. I always fancied you wished Matthew to marry, and were therefore simply raising objections in order to make him more anxious to do so. You are aware that I consider marriage to be the only thing that will sever him from the fanatical set with whom he has lately become involved/ Advice, 1 03 ' Marriage, yes — with anyone but Claire Bailey. I would rather see him an Anglican Monk, much as I despise the body, than married to her.' 'Just so ; then Mr Lently had better take the case in hand. Poor Matthew — if I am not mistaken Lently has already been sowing the seeds of much tribulation in his mind.' * And you, Mr Sivewright, one of my greatest friends, you actually mean that you are inclined to promote this marriage of Matthew into the family of my bitterest — ' she broke off with a little gulp, and catching up her words, went on in a higher key, ' Oh, it is too unkind, too dispiriting, to find that everybody is against me.' * My dear Mrs Desborough, what can it matter to me whom Matthew marries, except as far as my personal interest in you is con- cerned ; all I say is, marriage is the only chance of his ever seeing life from a realistic I04 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. point of view, and giving up all the ideal nonsense with which his head has of late been crammed. However, as you seem so strongly to object to this alliance, there is only one alternative — -send him away. Matthew is impressionable, and by this means you may — I don't say you will — suc- ceed in forcing his ideas into another channel, and making him break fresh ground, over which neither Lently's teaching nor Claire Bailey's dainty feet have ever passed.' ' You were born a diplomat ! ' exclaimed Mrs Desborough, from whose face all the malice had suddenly cleared. ' Unfold your plan — I am all attention,' and she smoothed the laces, and turned down any points which seemed to bristle. ' The whole thing will require very judi- cious management, my dear friend,' and the Rev. Lawrencel ooked important and grand. ' Matthew's is no ordinary character. I have studied it in every detail since he was Advice, 105 quite a lad. He must be induced, not forced — he fancies he wants a reason for every- thing, though inter nos he is too illogical to be able clearly to sift error from truth — hence the self-abnegation with which he has listened to Lently — till yesterday, when self-will asserted itself in opposition to the dogmas of his party ; and the strife has filled his mind with rebellion.' * How do you know all this ? Did he tell you ? ' 'Had he sufficient confidence in me to make me his confessor, diplomacy would be unnecessary — no, I have but observed ex- ternal signs ; but I feel quite certain I have judged aright.' * Shall we send him off abroad at once ? ' ' There is no motive,' answered Mr Sive- wright, ' he would regard it as simply done to alienate him from Claire, and ^o\Adi poser for a martyr during his entire absence, and come back more determined than ever to 1 06 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, have his own way, whatever that way may be ; for, mark me, I don't believe at this moment he has quite made up his mind what it is that he does want/ ' Well, then, you suggest — * ' That contradiction should be carefully and steadily avoided — that he should be allowed to follow the unbiassed dictates of his own feelings/ ' But, my dear Mr Sivewright, where will they lead him ? ' * Into a direct path, I hope, if we guide his steps without his knowing it. To enable him to fulfil his destinies in life as a younger son, and to marry Miss Bailey with any honour to himself, it is necessary that he should con- tinue his studies ; that long illness of his has been a sad drawback, happening as it did at the beginning of a young man's educational career. All this should be represented to him clearly and forcibly, and the modus operandi practically set forth.' Advice. 107 * Just so — there is the difficulty — where can we send him ? He can't go back to Oxford, that you know ; he has failed so persistently in his examinations. Oh ! Matthew is a terrible thorn — if he were only more like George/ * I doubt if George would be more success- ful if he were in Matthew's place — he is an elder son, and is not expected to work ; but to return to the case in point. I suggest that for a time Matthew should pursue a course of private study under efficient train- ing — not in ecclesiastical matters, but in classical lore, with a man who will not attempt in any way to interfere with his religious opinions.' * What a difficult plan — such a man will be quite impossible to find — people are so fond of airing the quirks and ideas they call religion.' ' Just so — still there is an old college friend of mine, who, if he could be induced to 1 08 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. charge himself with Matthew for a time, would, I think, prove a valuable mentor. You have seen him, I believe ; he was staying with me a few months since.' ' Mr Wharton ! why, he is a free-thinker. Oh ! Mr Sivewright, we must be careful what we do.' ' Wharton is no more of a free-thinker than I am ; he believes in the broad doc- trines of Christianity as they are revealed to a clear, capable mind, unclogged by dogma and superstition. He is not a Lently, if that be what you mean ; but I fancied we had agreed to give Matthew free agency of thought, and let him find out for himself what he does and does not believe. I am sure he does not know at this moment' * Where does Mr Wharton live ? ' asked Mrs Desborough meekly — she was always more or less awed when the Rev. Lawrence grew positive. ' He lives in London.' Advice. 109 She gave a little start — he perceived it, and went on, — ' Of course I do not dictate that this step should be taken — I only advise. According to my view of the case, there is no more desirable place than London to which we could send Matthew. He will there mix with a set of people as yet quite unknown to him — people who have had their ideas en- larged, their thoughts matured by friction. He will hear opinions asserted, doctrines circulated, which have found no place in his hitherto prescribed orbit. He will pass so rapidly from fresh scene to fresh scene that it will be strange if, in a short time, he has not forgotten to tighten the knot which now binds him to Swanover Cottage and Ravensholme Vicarage ; in a word, it seems to me that the chance is so in favour of his becoming a free man under these cir- cumstances, that the experiment is worth the trial — of course, it remains with you and Mr no Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Desborough to take the subject into earnest and affectionate consideration.' ' To send a young man to London is a bold step/ said Mrs Desborough ; * there are so many temptations.' ' Certainly there are — but under Wharton's guidance, and with the many friends you have, and who will, of course, be civil to Matthew, I have no apprehension of evil — unless a general enlargement of ideas, an expansion of brain capabilities, be considered an evil — which I deny.' * Of course — of course — ah ! if the scheme you propose be certain to make Matthew less of a visionary, and give him the power of thinking boldly and seriously — how gladly would I urge Mr Desborough to adopt it — only, even then, I have scruples. Do you think, my dear Mr Sivewright, that, our object attained, we shall see Matthew a happier man ? Have we any right to wrest Advice. 1 1 1 from him the perfect faith he has now — and to give him — what ? ' ' Truth ! ' answered the vicar promptly. ' You are mistaken in imagining that Mat- thew has perfect faith ; his mind oscillates from one chimera to another, till it is choked with fanaticism — there is no opportunity for honest growth. Let him see, hear, argue, feel for himself ; and then, if he prefer Lently and his school to the wider range of views which have been offered, let him rest peace- fully in his perfect faith. We shall have done our duty, which we certainly shall not be doing if we allow Matthew to grope blind- folded along luminous pathways, without at- tempting to remove the bandage.' Mrs Desborough did not look altogether satisfied — she was evidently a little bit afraid of the step recommended by the vicar. Expanded, though her views had become, principally from his teaching, still she could not thoroughly divest herself of the fear all 1 1 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. women have of taking the Initiative in a bold venture ; besides, there were times when Mrs Desborough herself was under the influence of Mr Lently's fervid preaching, and perhaps — had she not been personally attracted to Mr Sivewright — it is not wholly improbable that she would have joined the phalanx who had elected Lently to be their Pope. In women's religion, unfortunately, there is generally mixed a strong amount of hero- worship — and Mrs Desborough was no ex- ception. Many a daring thought or axiom she accepted as uncontrovertible, because it was believed by her dear friend and ally, the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright. As it had been on previous occasions, so it was likely to prove now. Mr Sivewright had thought fit to interfere in the direction of the home affairs at Vantage Park, and he was to obtain — what, by the way, he never doubted — his own way. Advice, 1 1 No more stern denunciator of priest-craft than the Rev. Lawrence ; vet no one more ready to make use of the power he managed to hold through his office — call him moral teacher, or any other latitudinarian name he might elect. While Mrs Desborough thought, he walked silently up and down the room ; after he had taken several turns, he stopped in front of her. * I am rejoiced, my dear friend, to note that you are thinking the matter out in all its bearings before giving a definite opinion. Nothing is so pleasing to a man of my nerve as the exercise of free unbiassed thought ; if you differ from me — as you may — what matter ? our bond of unity will only be strengthened by argument — nothing so nauseating as perpetual agreement between friends.' ' But I am afraid we shall not have the pleasure of a quarrel this morning. I am VOL. I. H 114 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. beginning to think you are right — as you in- variably are — this is the best, in fact the only plan that will save Matthew.' Mrs Des- borough held out her hand to the vicar, who pressed it warmly. So the issue of Matthew's life having been weighed in the scales of Mrs Desborough and Mr Sivewright's philosophy, it was de- cided that — the squire's assent, of which they did not doubt, having been obtained — the plan of action they had decided to adopt should be put into force at once, and the lever applied to the machinery which was to have the twofold power of wresting Mat- thew from his director and his lady-love. CHAPTER VII L A FRESH EXPERIENCE. ARKET day at Hurton, invariably a busy time in the usually dull old country town, with its grey Bath-stone houses and half-awakened in- habitants ! By some established custom, however, everybody goes to Hurton on market day, not only the portion of the community directly responsible for provid- ing the necessary commodities of life, but county people ; the gentlemen under the pretext of being really interested in the prices of animal and vegetable products, the ladies to shop or flirt. On a particular Thursday, however, to- T 1 6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. wards the middle of October, at about eleven o'clock In the day, only bo7id fide buyers and sellers are to be seen, discussing samples of corn, the weight and size of pigs and sheep, the excellence of cheeses and the like. As by magic, nearly all the Idlers have disap- peared, and It Is In vain that the most eloquent of Cheap Jacks discourses extra- vagantly on his wares. He can command but so small a knot of listeners, that he packs up his boxes of bargains for another occasion, and gets Into the gay yellow gig, wheels picked out red, which, with the boxes shining underneath, serves In the double capacity of advertisement and cart. Behind this tiny conveyance, which Is only wide enough to hold one person, stands the smallest of tigers In the most theatrical of liveries, his occupation being that of horn blower. A cracked Instrument, emit- ting sounds between a trumpet and a penny whistle, being used to announce the arrival A Fresh Experience, 117 of his master s well-known equipage when- ever they drive into any of the towns of which they make the circuit on market days. Cheap Jack and his miniature do- mestic are, however, on this occasion, bent on following in the wake of the rest of Hurton, for they have no sooner got outside the town than they turn from the main road into a narrow lane already thronged with people of every age and grade. A balloon is going up from Farmer Nesbitt's ten-acre piece, and all the popu- lation of Hurton has flocked to see it. In the centre of the field lies the huge Levia- than of the sky, which, in the course of time, is to be propelled into mid-air, and the gaping open-mouthed crowd looks on and wonders from a little distance, the space enclosed in proximity to the object of their curious speculation being roped off for the reception of those individuals whom our friend, the Cheap Jack, In his Inflated 1 1 8 Sackchth and Broadcloth, language invariably designates as ' castled swells/ Foremost among this party — now hand- ling the ropes^ now asking pertina- ciously leading questions of Mr Garsden, the owner of the balloon — is George Des- borough. Without being very clever or very well read, George has a good deal of general knowledge, picked up chiefly by viva voce inquiry, which he maintains is less strain on the mental faculties and more amusing than book learning, while it is the most practical mode of attaining infor- mation, because usually accompanied by ocular demonstration. To judge from the thoroughly interested expression of his face, he is putting his pet theory into practice at this moment ; for so absorbed is he in Mr Garsden's explanations that he utterly fails to perceive that another person is listening with as much interest as himself to the marvellous tales Mr Garsden is A Fresh Experience. 1 1 9 relating of the action of machinery and the power of gas. It is not till a voice says close to him, ' I will go up in that balloon. I am resolved. Will you take me, Mr Garsden, for five pounds ? I'll risk my neck with pleasure, that George Desborough looks round and lifts his hat with a smile to Mrs Tremayne. ' Brave — I know you are,' he observes gallantly. ' But, of course, you do not mean in sober earnest that you will go up in that thing ? ' ' I never say what I don't mean,' an- swered Violet laughing, ' a fact which you will discover when you know me better. I am going up in that balloon ; there would be no fun if there were no danger.' ' But the duchess ! ' and George looked round. ' The duchess is not here, the duke would not let her come, he thought it infra dig. or some nonsense ; but no one has any right to control me, thank goodness.' I20 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, ' Is it such a happy thing to stand all alone in the world ? ' asked George. ' I always thought women liked to have some- one to lean against.' ' Lean against ! For one sturdy oak there are a hundred thousand osier twigs to be found. Most of my male acquaint- ances belong to the last-named species, so I am learning to pick my own steps with- out support ; and by way of proving my strength I am going up in that balloon.' * If a body will to Cupar, maun to Cupar,' said George, laughingly quoting the old Scotch proverb. ' Still I know no reason why the body maun to Cupar alone. I am quite prepared to go too.' ' You — in that balloon ? What would your mother say ? ' George grew instantly serious. No man, however he may love his maternal parent, likes to be twitted about the affection. A Fresh Experience. 1 2 1 * My mother is no coward,' he answered ; 'and Is fond of new experiences. If she were here I doubt If we should prevent her from accompanying us/ * That acknowledgment on your part is chaperonage enough for anybody. So ar- range with Mr Garsden, and let us rise towards heaven as soon as possible. I doubt if we shall either of us ever have another chance.' George, taken at his word, complied, and while he was making preliminary arrange- ments with Mr Garsden, Mistress Violet looked round at the assembled spectators, and rejoiced at the expression of wonder she saw depicted on several faces when It became known that the lady from Montarlis Castle was actually going to trust her life In that ungainly machine. There was, however, no mistake about the matter ; the ducal carriage was waiting for her, and they heard the order given to the ducal servants. I 2 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Go back to Montarlis without me, and tell her grace I shall probably arrive in the balloon. You can put me down on the lawn, can't you, Mr Garsden ? ' The aeronaut shook his head. * That I cannot promise. The route we take must depend entirely on the wind ; but I will do my best,' ' All right. I daresay the wind will take us where we want to go, at least we'll hope so. Tell her grace, James, that I shall come in the balloon. There is no other message.' James touched his hat and smiled. He was evidently more sceptical than Mrs Tre- mayne about the possibility of controlling at will the capricious upper airs, ' Before the carnage really goes, are you sure you have quite made up your mind that — ' said George, beginning another ap- peal ; but it was interrupted by a laughing declaration from the lady that she believed A Fresh Experience. 123 * he was turning frightened, and if that were the case, she begged he would not risk his precious Hfe on her account — she could very well go by herself.' What could George do but assure Mr Garsden that they were quite ready when he was prepared to start. They got into the car amid the plaudits of the assembled crowd, which was quite enthusiastic over this exhibition of pluck on the part of the pretty, dainty Violet Tremayne, and loud above them all was heard Cheap Jack's voice, expressing in his vernacular that if ever he had a wife, might he find just such another as that ''ere lady.' In fact, to a woman less accustomed to mix in the varied scenes of life, one who had been more care- fully secluded, the present demonstration would have been most repellant, and George Desborough looked at Mrs Tremayne won- deringly, as though he expected she would jump out of the car, grow hysterical, or 1 24 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, show in some way her dissatisfaction at being made the centre of attraction to the populace, a position to which ladies of the grand inonde, as a rule, particularly object. Violet Tremayne, on the contrary, seemed quite in her element, said it was a most delightful piece of excitement, that her pulse had not beaten so fast this many a day, and was evidently thoroughly enjoying herself. At last the ropes are loosed, and the huge balloon with its precious freight rises with startling rapidity from the ground, and starts up into space. George, if he had told the truth, must have acknowledged that his sen- sations on finding himself wafted above the * strong firm earth,* whereon his feet were accustomed to tread, were not of the most pleasurable. He was far from being a coward ; had faced danger manfully in many a form ; but this frolic he regarded as fool- hardy and rash in the extreme. Men, as a rule, only enjoy a daring exploit about A Fresh Experience. 1 2 5 which they have, or think they have, some knowledge, and on which they can exercise their power of will or muscular strength. Women, on the contrary, are fearless, and consequently most happy when encounter- ing a danger of which they neither see nor understand the extent. A sense of his own total incapacity was painfully present in George's mind as they pursued their sky- ward journey, and this, combined as it was with a sickening feeling produced by the rapid and unaccustomed ascent, rendered the air voyage by no means Olympian in its impressions. It was with some difficulty that he managed to answer with any heartiness Violet's spas- modic bursts of joy — disjointed as they were from the fact that she was perpetually ren- dered almost breathless by the rapid currents of air which every now and then swept past them. Having risen a considerable distance above the earth's surface — so far indeed that 1 26 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. familiar objects, such as barns and churches, seemed Hke mere specks, they came to a sudden stop, and began to sail before the wind ; but on Mr Garsden's throwing out some sand-bags — to Violet's intense delight — they swiftly rose again. * If it were only not quite so cold it would be perfect,' she said. ' I am so glad we came — are not you ? * ' I shall be glad we came — when we are safe at home,' he answered. * You know I undertook the expedition solely to please you. ' How charming to think you are so anxious to give me pleasure, Mr Des- borough,' said Violet, as ingenuously as if she had been only sixteen, and she dropped her long lashes, for she had been looking at him very brightly. * I hope no evil will come of it,' she went on in a very sober voice ; ' of course I mean for your sake — no one troubles about me.' * Oh, Mrs Tremayne, how can you talk A Fresh Experie^ice. 127 so. Though osier twigs may bend, they are very difficult to break, and you have at least one osier twig at your service.' ' Ah ! ' and she gave a little sigh. The rarefied atmosphere up on high was not conducive to sentiment, and moreover Violet was bitterly cold ; still it occurred to her that it were perhaps worth while to make, if possible, a captive of George. So she resisted the impulse to give way to an immoderate fit of laughter, and sat looking very still and just a little perplexed. ' I hope you are not frightened ? ' asked George, after watching her in this new mood for a few minutes. ' Frightened at being in this balloon .<* Oh no ! I'm not at all afraid at that,' and her voice sank almost into a whisper. ' At what then ? ' * Well, a little at you.' * At me ! Good gracious ! Why, I came on purpose to protect you.* 1 2 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Yes, it was very good of you, but I am afraid foolish on my part. There will be such a talk, and Julia and the duke will be so angry ; however, it can't be helped now. Don't look so woe-be-gone, Mr Desborough,' for George was really annoyed by this sudden light she had seen fit to throw on the manner of their upward flight. ' Good intentions,' he murmured to him- self, * the devil always mixes himself up with them. I wish to goodness I had never come to this cursed balloon ascent' She did not hear his mutterings, or she would scarcely have been flattered. His re- grets were destined, however, to be tripled before the adventure came to an end. Even Violet was beginning to have had enough of the exploit, for wrapping her thin cachemire jacket more closely round her, she said, shivering, — ' Don't you think, Mr Garsden, we might A Fresh Experience, 1 2 9 begin to think about arriving on the lawn at MontarHs?' Just before she spoke two more sand-bags had been ejected from the car, and the balloon had risen with a sudden and rapid flight, which delighted the aero- naut, but rendered his companions well-nigh breathless. ' Go down already ? ' asked Mr Garsden in a surprised tone ; ' the air is not nearly thin enough to necessitate a descent/ ' But I am very cold,' said Violet, ' and have fully realised what it is to sit on a damp cloud. If that is the chronic condition of angels, I'll none of them.' She was feebly attempting to feign a degree of jollity she by no means felt, for pluck was oozing out at every pore ; what little she still attempted to retain being merely struggled for, to counterpoise, if pos- sible, George Desborough's expression of utter annoyance and dejection. ' Do you really wish to go back to earth ? ' VOL. I. I 1 30 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. he asked her ; ' because if you do I am sure Mr Garsden will at once direct his balloon into a downward route/ * Yes, yes. We have done enough to say we have been, and that is as much as one ever wants of a thing. Besides, it is no use to be late for dinner.' * Late for dinner ! ' Violet Tremayne had yet to learn that air is not so amenable to the power of man as steam and electricity. Upon George's interference, however, Mr Garsden opened a valve and allowed a por- tion of the gas which inflated the balloon to escape. Slowly they descended, but, as it appeared to Violet, much more slantingly than they had risen. In answer to her observation on this subject, she was told by Mr Garsden that the wind had got up, but it would be all right, only they must not attempt to come down too fast. So they pottered along for a while, floating before the wind, as it seemed, on a level range. A Fresh Experience, 131 ' I wonder what the time is ? ' said Violet, feehng half inclined to cry, and giving a violent tug at her watch. It had stopped at two o'clock, George's some three- quarters later. ' There will evidently be no watches in heaven,' prattled Violet, trying a joke ; but George did not laugh, and there was a long silence, during which they described an incalculable journey through space. * Don't you think it is getting very late ? ' again asked Violet after a while. ' I fancy so, but I have no idea of the hour ; we seem to be so far above the sun that one loses all the signs which form a sort of natural dial,' answered George gravely. 'Well, you are not very encouraging, Mr Desborough, I must say. Can't you look jolly, even if you don't feel so.' * And you ? ' he asked with a smile. ^ Oh, I am only cold. Mr Garsden, are you ever going to take me home ? ' 1 3 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' I hope so, madam ; but I am afraid it will not be to-night.' * Not to-night ! ' and Violet gave a shriek. * You don't mean to say I am to sleep in this thing, and have no food ! I am starv- ing already, and what will everybody say ? ' * I hope we shall have reached comfort- able quarters before night,' answered the aeronaut, ' though I am afraid they will not be at Montarlls Castle.' ' What on earth do you mean ? Mr Des- borough; I must go home.' But George did not answer — he seemed bereft of utterance. * Can't you speak ? Tell me — where are we — why sha'n't I be at Montarlis Castle ? Is there any danger ? ' * We are crossing the German Ocean,' was George's terse reply. ' Good God ! ' and Violet looked so wild that he seized her by both hands, fearful lest in her dismay she should throw herself out of the car. A Fresh Experience. 133 'It is all right — there is no cause for alarm — we shall be in Holland before dark,' said Mr Garsden ; ' it is a very good wind, and there is a lovely open space where we II can descend not far from the Hague.' 'Holland — the Hague — is it all some horrible dream ? ' and Violet began to laugh hysterically. ' Why did you bring me, Mr Desborough? It is all your fault ; men always want women to do foolish things.' Poor George, it was rather hard on him to be thus falsely accused ; but he did not attempt to vindicate himself, only sought to soothe and tranquillise her. He had promised to see her through this adventure, he said, and cost what it might he would keep his word — at least there should be no scandal. But Violet's nerves having once given way could not be controlled, and for the rest of the dreadful journey she whim- pered, sobbed, and asked puerile questions by turns ; perhaps George liked her better 1 34 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. thus than in her usual dashing, mirthful mood ; at all events he was very tender and gentle in his treatment of her. And so minutes grew into hours, and a murky darkness seemed to be stealing all around. ' I am really frightened now,' whispered Violet, almost clinging on to George. He encouraged her by a hand pressure and a few almost loving words. The balloon was descending rapidly — the sea was crossed — the danger was nearly passed, if only there was sufficient light to discern the open space to which Mr Garsden alluded. For half- an-hour the suspense endured by the two unpractised aeronauts seemed like the years of a long protracted agony. At last it was over — they were safe on terra firma, and there was just enough light left in the sky to see Violet's white face as she lay in a dead faint in George's arms. Alone — they two — in the open country some- where between the Hague and Rotterdam. CHAPTER IX. * WHERE AM I ? ' HERE am I ? This is not Mont- arlis.' And Violet Tremayne looked round wildly when she found herself in a strange room — an honest- looking Dutch woman leaning over her with as much apprehension on her countenance as though she feared her patient were already dead. But the stamen of life was very strong in Mrs Tremayne, stronger than her slight frame denoted, and having pronounced these words as one waking from a long dream, she sprang from a bed on which she had found herself lying, and stood on the floor confront- ing her attendant. It was dark, that is to 136 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. say, the first streaks of early morning were just peeping into the dImly-Hghted room, when Violet awoke from the long heavy sleep, which, under the combined influences of strong air and fright, had begun with an unconscious- ness which had alarmed both her male companions. She ran her fingers through her crispy curling hair and pondered. The situation was an anomalous one. Ah ! she remembered it all now, and George Desborough — the hero of this mad adventure — where was he ? She asked the question sharply of the woman who stood looking at her with a sort of stupefied air ; but no know- ledge of English had penetrated into the good Dutch woman's mind, and when, by slow degrees, she had sufficiently re- covered from the surprise Violet's sudden resurrection had occasioned, she trotted out of the room. In a few minutes she came back accompanied by a tall thin scraggy Where am I ?' 137 female in very light attire, with an old shawl thrown round her shoulders, and her hair scrambled up into a knot at the top of her head. It was obvious she had just got up on being summoned by the attendant, who had been desired to tell her when Violet should awake. Mrs Tremayne had pulled back the cur- tains and was looking out of the window ; it was just sufficiently light for her to see that she was in a somewhat lonely abode — probably a farm-house, a very flat un- picturesque - looking country being round her, interspersed with numberless small canals ; but Violet was in no humour to be impressed by either the beauty or the ugliness of her surroundings — she was thoroughly vexed at the position into which her love of frolic had plunged her. She turned sharply round and asked the new comer tartly, — ' Can no one speak English or French '^. ' 1 3 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. * I can your language a little,' answered Madame Hooght, the proprietress of the house in which Violet found herself. ' That is all right ; then give me something to eat, for I am starving, and tell Mr Des- borough to make haste and let us start at once/ * Your husband, madame, sleeps ! ' an- swered the woman shortly. * Yes — in the churchyard at Hyeres ! ' muttered Violet to herself; but she did not attempt to rectify the statement, only turned with avidity to some hot milk and farm-house bread which her attendant of the night had just brought into her room. Annoyed as she was at the turn affairs had taken, yet body as usual asserted its dominion over mind, and she hailed the food with a welcome, and ate with as much relish as if the fact of her impromptu visit to Holland left nothing to be desired in its circumstances. Having finished her repast, she plunged her head into Where am I ?' 139 a basin of fresh cold water, and then began to twist into becoming positions her some- what rebellious locks — to the no small surprise of Madame Hooght, who had never before received into her frugal homestead a visitor of Violet's type. During these opera- tions Violet rattled on, receiving, however, but very doubtful answers to her remarks, the fact being that Madame Hooght's know- ledge of English was too limited for her to understand the half that was said. Having brushed, with the assistance of Madame Hooght, her pretty fawn-coloured autumn dress, and arranged the red bows as only such deft fingers as she possessed could have freshened what, at first sight, seemed disor- dered tangle, Violet began to wonder when George would be forthcoming, and what was the wisest step to take under the difificult cir- cumstances in which she had placed herself. A little tap at the door, and the hard-featured Dutch servant entered with a tiny note. 1 40 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Breakfast is served in a lower room. Was Mrs Tremayne rested ? Would she come down ? ' Violet assented at once ; an interview with her cavalie7^ sei^vente was exactly what she wanted, and in a few minutes she tripped into the homely farm-house parlour with as much self-possession as though it had been the great breakfast-room at Montarlis Castle. ' Good morning, Mr Desborough. I hope you slept well ? ' and she held out her hand carelessly. George, however, by no means reflected the lady's buoyancy of greeting. He held her hand in his for a minute, and then said very gravely, — ' I am so sorry — for you.' Violet took the cue in a moment ; her eyes dropped. ' Ah yes ; but it is my own fault ; I must suffer for selfishness, you know. Come and have your breakfast, dear Mr Desborough ; Where am If 141 do not make yourself unhappy on my account. What has become of Garsden ? I thought I should have found him here.' * He Is looking after his balloon.' ' Horrible Invention ballooning. I wish I had never been curious about It,' said Violet with a little shiver. 'Yes, Indeed,' and George looked dis- mally Into an ^gg he had just cracked. ' I am glad you did not catch cold. I was afraid you would be quite 111 to-day.' ' Oh, I am pretty well, thank goodness ; but don't you think we had better be getting home ? ' and Violet gave him a cup of coffee. ' Yes, I suppose so ; though It Is very pleasant here.' * It might be pleasant enough,' she an- swered, ' If It were not for a horribly evll- tongued world, which Is sure to Interfere with every happiness that Is not quite con- ventional. I quite dread to arrive at Mont- arlis. What will the duke say ? ' 142 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, ' You have a home of your own, have you not ? ' observed George. * Why not go there ? ' ' Oh yes, In London. But won't that look exactly as if — Mr Desborough, I will be guided entirely by you — you shall advise. If I had listened to your advice in the beginning, I should not have been in this scrape now — get me out of it,' and she pushed all the cups and plates on one side, and doubling her two arms on the table, she leaned on them and looked into his face. ' There is a boat leaves Rotterdam for Harwich at two o'clock this afternoon. We shall reach London about six o'clock to- morrow morning.' * Another night away ! ' and Violet hid her face in her folded arms. * Shall I go over to England by myself, and send some friend or your maid to fetch you } ' suggested George. ' No,' she said, springing up suddenly. Where a7n I ?' 14, ' We have begun the adventure together — let us finish it. I don't care much what the world says ; there is such a thing as living down an outcry, I suppose ? ' 'Mrs Tremayne — Violet — we have met so seldom that I am afraid you will think me presuming, but this little adventure has thrown us together, has it not ? Will you be my wife ? ' * Oh, Mr Desborough ! it is too bad to ask me such a question now. If I say ** No," it will make it very awkward for us to travel home together, and if I say '' Yes," I am afraid it will make it rather worse,' and she laughed, more perhaps from ex- citement than because she saw any fun in the position of affairs. ' I do not understand,' answered George soberly ; ' as my wife, no one will dare make any remark about this unfortunate little oc- currence, and you will at least be free from the tongue of scandal' 1 44 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' If that Is your only reason — merely to shield me from censure — I cannot Indeed accept the sacrifice,' and Violet made him a little curtsey. * My only reason ! how can you suspect me of such a thing ? Have you not learnt that I love you, sweet Violet ? In truth I have done my best to make you understand.' ' Ah ! ' she said, * Is this so ? ' and she looked down with the pensive expression to which she had treated him more than once ; * It Is a pity, for what are we to do ? ' ' Tell me first that you reciprocate the feeling just a little, and then I will tell you what we shall do.' 'Well, I don't hate you,' she said laugh- ing, and holding out her hand to him. It was quite Impossible for Violet to be senti- mental for more than two consecutive minutes. ' And you accept me as a lawful pro- tector ? ' ' Where am I ?' 145 ' Well, faiUe de mieux — yes.' ' You won't back out when you get to England and are amongst your friends ? ' he asked wistfully, for he was really very much smitten with Violet, and yet did not quite understand her wilful ways and merry badinage. ' Good gracious! no. Why should I ? You are better than most of the osier twigs — in fact, I am not sure you are one at all. Under my training you might even turn out an elm or an oak ; but I'll only consent to this little arrangement between us on one condition.' ' Name it. Whatever it is — I accede.' * Dear me, how accommodating you are now. After a year of marriage won't the tables be turned. Remember I am a widow, Mr Desborough. I know all the weak places.' ' Never mind, as long as past experience does not prevent you from trying the ex- periment again. What are the terms ? ' VOL. I. K 1 46 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' That until this day six months no one is to know one word about the conversation that has passed between us to-day.' * And wherefore ? ' ' To save my reputation of course. As long as the world thinks we are mere or- dinary acquaintances, no one will trouble to talk about us ; the moment they think we are lovers there will be a fine tale. Don't you see ? ' * Well, not exactly,' answered George ; * surely as my wife you would be safe from all slander ? ' ' Yes — then, but not now. I tell you no one must know of this rapid engagement — not even dear Julia or your mother. It must grow — believe me it must grow. Cesar's wife must not be suspected, they say, and I'm afraid if we are not very careful Cesar's fiancde will come in for a very large share of suspicion.' ' Are — are we not to meet and see each Where am I ?' i^y other ? This is a very severe verdict, Violet.' ' Of course we are, at the houses of mutual friends, and the tiny acquaintance sprung up in a balloon will ripen slowly into a life-long love with which no divorce court shall ever interfere. Oh ! it will be so ridiculously respectable, whereas if we were to go back now and proclaim ourselves engaged — heaven, or the other place, only knows what people would say.' * And in six months you really promise to marry me ? ' * Soon after six months. Yes. I suppose so. You have won me by a co^t^p de main ; and now, my lord, perhaps you will have the goodness to woo me.' ' That will be no unpleasing task,' said George, kissing her hand. * Oh ! not now, we must arrive in England first, and then you shall begin quite en r^gle. The boat does not go till two o'clock. 148 . Sackcloth and Broadcloth. you say ; let us have a look at Rotterdam, and see if we will choose Holland for our honeymoon.' In another half-hour they bade adieu to Madame Hooght, who was still impressed with the idea that they were man and wife, and after a little conversation with Mr Gars- den, who was arranging his balloon pre- paratory to starting off in it with the hope of reaching England, Mrs Tremayne and George Desborough set off for Rotterdam. They arrived in the Hoogstras about eleven o'clock, having blundered slowly along the four miles which lay between them and the town in a heavy ungainly conveyance be- longing to the proprietress of the farm- house. ' Let us see it all as we are here, and leave fretting over circumstances till our escapade has found us out,' suggested Violet. So they sauntered along the Boomjes, Violet for the most part keeping up the Where am I ?^ 149 conversational ball, not exactly because she felt thoroughly happy and at her ease, but because she was anything but charmed at the position In which she had placed herself, and because, above everything, she did not want George to make love to her. She liked him quite well enough to marry him — as an eldest son — but she felt she could not have love-making added to the excite- ment under which she was labouring at this time. If any of his own home circle had seen George following Mrs Tremayne about Rotterdam with the sort of faithful servility usually seen in a dog, they would scarcely have believed their senses. Only a very few weeks ago he had smiled derisively at Matthew's love-lorn condition — could it be possible that he himself was standing at the very gate of a fool's paradise, and was going to allow himself to be led about its bewilder- ing mazes by a woman ? No one who had known George till this moment would credit 1 50 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, it ; the rarefied air up in the altitudes must have affected his whole temperament. And so they wandered about over the bal- ance bridges, up and down the queer canal- intersected town, looked at Erasmus' statue in the Groote Market ; went into the churches, wondered, speculated, chatted about every- thing they saw, till at last they found them- selves on the quay which stretches into the Maas, and alongside of which was lying the steamer which was to bear them to England. Of the reception they would meet with on their arrival, perhaps both of them felt a little doubtful: — though neither liked to own it to the other. CHAPTER X. ANTE-MATRIMONIAL. ^^g^^HE rage for imitating in the needle- work of to-day the embroidery of the middle ages, has penetrated even into the remote northern counties, and Lady Laura Bailey is sitting working at a frame by the pretty oriel window which has been thrown out to enlarge the sunny morning-room at Swanover Cottage. Art colours, designs from nature lie scattered about — she has studied the whole subject in all its details, patronised and pleaded for every school of work in the kingdom, till some of her friends have been more than a little bored by her pertinacity. 1 5 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Can it be that her zeal has cooled from the very ardour with which it was at first ignited, for she sits now very thoughtful, one hand leaning idly on the frame, the other toying with a lapful of silk and crewels. Lady Laura, however, is not studying any inartistic flaw which she thinks she has discovered in the design ; it is evident that she is dreaming, and no very pleasant dream either, to judge from the pre-occupied ex- pression on her usually sweet, calm face. Claire — the future of her darling Claire — is the picture she is trying to sketch in her mind at that moment, but she cannot succeed, bright as are the hues in which she begins her painting. Like a dissolving view they pass before she can even retain the fair scene in her memory, and a grey tinted misty foreground enshrouds her sun- lit horizon. Matthew has paid almost daily visits to Swanover Cottage ever since that walk he and Claire took through the wood A 7ite- Matrimonial. 1 5 3 with no chaperone but Prig. He has never breathed a word of his own mental diffi- culties, or of his mother's objections ; but Lady Laura is intuitively sensible that all is not well. She has known Mrs Des- borough too long, they have passed to- gether over too many rough bits in life's journey, for her not to be able thoroughly to read the case as it at present stands. Her pride revolts at the idea of Claire marrying a man whose family does not receive her voluntarily ; but yet, for Claire, she dreads any contradiction which may bring about a rupture with Matthew. She has already noticed that for the last few days all has not been well with her little girl ; that her bright smiles have vanished, her joyous song notes become hushed. She, too, has begun to read the signs, and has not failed to observe that a cloud hangs between her and her lover which she seems powerless to dispel. During the rambles 1 54 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. which they occasionally take in the once enchanted wood, he wanders on silently by Claire's side, as it were brooding over some private wrong ; yet no loving questioning on her part can elicit a satisfactory reply as to what ails him. Not surprising then that the mother, feeling rather than knowing of the existence of trouble in her daughter's mind, should let her fingers forget their cunning as her thoughts wander into her child's misty future. While she sits pondering there, a foot- step is heard on the soft gravel in front of the cottage. She gathers up the errant crewels, as though anxious to avoid the fact of being caught dreaming. It is only just in time ; another second, and the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright is standing by the window. Yet Lady Laura is not one of his fold. Ravensholme is her parish church, and she attends the Ravensholme services regularly. She scarcely perhaps follows the A nte- Matrimonial. 1 5 5 Rev. Luke Lently to the extreme outside boundary of his beHef ; but still she receives more comfort from his teaching — it seems something more staple for her womanly clinging nature to rest on than that of Mr Sivewright. The Vicar of Fernwood-cum-Grasdale is, however, no unwelcome visitor at Swanover Cottage. Lady Laura fully appreciates him as a good companion, though she cannot divest herself of a sense of worldliness, which invariably creeps over her for a while after she has been indulging in a pleasant conversation with Mr Sivewright. On this especial morning she is more than usually glad to see him ; she doubts not he is fully conversant with the subject nearest her heart, and who knows but that he may be able to give her the key for which she has been searching so hopelessly of late. Pushing her embroidery frame into a cor- ner, she goes out into the little vestibule 156 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. to meet and shake hands with her visitor ; the etiquette observed at Vantage Park and Montarhs Castle being seldom practised in the smaller but perhaps more wholesome atmosphere in which Lady Laura dv/ells. The first greeting over, and Mr Sive- wright seated in the cosy morning-room, he looks round as though in some surprise. ' And Claire — where is Claire ? ' * Oh, she is very vv^ell. She is out — gone through the wood to take some soup to old Mrs Morris,' and Lady Laura felt the colour rising uncomfortably to her cheeks. Why had she, truthful and straightforward as she always was, been induced by a sort of instinctive reticence to withhold from Mr Sivewright the fact that Claire had gone out accompanied by Matthew ? What- ever her reason, it was a very useless equivocation, as perhaps a faint smile which for a moment played round Mr Sivewright's full lips denoted ; but Lady Laura was Ante -Matrimonial, 1 5 7 scarcely clever enough, at all events in that peculiar sort of cleverness, to read his countenance, as Mrs Desborough would nut have failed to do. 'It is very charming to have an only child, and that child a daughter as sweet as Claire,' he observed. * I always pity people with . large families. All the plea- sure and interest of watching development of character and noting its lights and shades are lost, from want of time and oppor- tunity, to those parents who are compelled to devote their attention to a crowd of children.' ' Yet one child is a terrible anxiety. The mother who loses her one child is indeed to be pitied, or supposing that one child should make a false start or bad choice in life — ' ' Your child, my dear Lady Laura, is, happily, a girl, and one endowed with innocence, simplicity, and good sense. You can scarcely be exposed to this latter trial. 1 58 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. If you had a son you might talk of respon- sibiHty and anxiety.' ' Oh, boys can make their own way in the world,' said Lady Laura. ' Ay, if they don't begin with that false start to which you alluded just now. Every one who has sons has worry and annoyance — of that you may be very sure. Even our friends the Desboroughs are not exempt* ' How so — what has happened ? ' ' Well, Matthew's future career is, of course, a great anxiety to his mother, and I am not surprised at it, for I cannot at all chalk out his after life.' Lady Laura looked truly uncomfortable, and began to ask what Mr Sivewright meant ; but he pretended not to hear her, and went on, — ' Then there Is George — that little es- capade of his with Mrs Tremayne is not very satisfactory. Now, I like George Desborough far better than Matthew. I A nte- Matrimonial. 159 think he is made of better stuff; still, I must say he has been a fool in this in- stance.' ' What — what has happened ? I have heard nothing.' ' Not the balloon story ?' ' Oh, is that all ! I can't see that George Desborough was to blame. Mrs Tremayne insisted on going up. I am surprised that the duchess tolerates that woman — she is always giving rise to some story or another. What time did they get back ? ' * They never have got back,' laughed Mr Sivewright. ' That is the comical part of the situation.' * Good gracious ! but they may be killed.' ' Oh dear, no ! they are not dead, only missing. Have you not seen Matthew to- day ? ' ' No ; I have not.' Lady Laura had been engaged in some housekeeping affair when Matthew and 1 60 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Claire started on their walk. Perhaps she was glad to answer Mr Sivewright's query in the negative, though the fact of its hav- ing been put showed that he was by no means ignorant of the existing state of affairs. * Ah ! I imagined you knew all about it, or I should not have mentioned the sub- ject. Gossip is not a commodity in which I usually care to traffic' Mr Sivewright perhaps at the moment forgot that a racy story, even if merging on the confines of scandal, was not, as a rule, an unacceptable pleasure to his reverence. ' But now you have begun the conversa- tion, tell me what has happened.' ' Well, the balloon was carried much farther off than either of the aeronauts in- tended to go, that is all. The adventure may cost George the penalty of marrying Mrs Tremayne — according to my view, a terrible alternative. He is a foolish fellow — a very foolish fellow.' A nte- Matrimonial. 1 6 1 ' Do you mean that marriage is always a mistake, or only as regards Mrs Tre- mayne ? ' asked Lady Laura laughing. ' In this instance, I mean personally, as regards Mrs Tremayne, though I do not think I am a strong believer in connubial bliss. I never advocate young marriages for men.' * Indeed ! Do you not think it often steadies a young man ? ' 'In a very few instances perhaps it does so, but for the most part, after a fool's paradise has existed for a year or two, a man begins to see what a griev- ous mistake he has made from the very fact of not knowing his own mind. Both George and Matthew Desborough are unmis- takable cases in point — Matthew especially.' * How so ? ' and Lady Laura looked a little flustered. She particularly wished to ascertain Mr Sivewright's opinion about Matthew Desborough, but, at the same VOL. I. L i62 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. time, she was quite ready to combat it if it did not coincide entirely with her own ; his answer consequently by no means pleased her, for he smiled rather sneeringly. * Knowing Matthew Desborough as you do, you surely do not give him credit for possessing the capability of forming a judg- ment, or even, could he do so, for having the stability to maintain it' * That is severe censure, Mr Sivewright. I am very fond of Matthew, his is a lov- able, kindly nature.' ' Granted — and being so, the more easily led. His mother and I have had much serious talk about Matthew lately. I hope the subject of his future life, as it presents itself to our minds, will not fail to be seen in the same light by you.' ' You know — ' and Lady Laura hesitated. Mr Sivewright at once helped her through her difficulty. ' I know everything about Matthew and Ante- Matrimonial. 163 Claire's summer's day's love making,' he said, ' they are both babies ; but we, my dear lady, who have felt cold March winds and wintry blasts, must look out for the storms, the advent of which they, in their ignorance and innocence, fail to anticipate.' ' You have come as a deputy from Mrs Desborough to express her disapprobation, and to break off if possible all idea of this match, I presume,' said Lady Laura rather anxiously. * Had that been the case I should have started by telling you so. Quite the con- trary, I have come to make an ally of you, in order to promote the happiness of both these young .people. For Claire's sake, as well as his own — forgive me if I speak plainly — it is imperative that every effort should be made to strengthen Matthew's weak, it must be owned, some- what vacillating character. He has failed at Oxford so often that he cannot return 1 64 Sackcloth and Bi^oadcloth. there ; yet, as a younger son, it Is necessary that he should have a profession. His health is now so far re-established that there is no farther reason for idleness. It is therefore proposed that he should be placed with a tutor, in order to read hard for the next few months. * I thought he was reading with Mr Lently ? ' observed Lady Laura. The curl of the Rev. Lawrence's finely chiselled nostril was sufficient reply to show at what a low estimate he held Mr Lently's scholarship. ' He must have regular discipline in matters of study, and unbiassed freedom of thought ; that he can only obtain by having a wider range given to his mental faculties than they can possibly have among their present cramped surroundings. The only chance for Matthew is to leave him for a time entirely unshackled by all engagements. Let him have no church, A nte- Matrimonial. 165 no restraints, no opinions for a while. At the end of six months he will perhaps have learned to sift the dogmas and doc- trines with which his mind is now filled, and be capable of forming an honest wholesome judgment.' ' I suppose I am to infer that you wish him to be equally free in matters connected with the heart as in those bearing reference to mind ? ' said Lady Laura. * Naturally. If Matthew is to go away for the next six months to seek truth for himself, he must do so quite unfettered, or It is Impossible that he will ever find it.' * It Is a dangerous experiment,' observed the lady thoughtfully. * It Is Matthew's only chance of being a man Instead of a puppet.' ' I do not presume to have your know- ledge of character, or Mrs Desborough's cleverness ; but I am sorr)^ — very sorry/ and Lady Laura sighed. 1 65 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. * I cannot see the efficacy of the plan. If Matthew were my son I should pause for a long while, pray very fervently, before I allowed him to run so frightful a risk.' * The risk is in his idling here and hav- ing his mind continually racked by con- flicting opinions with which he is incapable of grappling, much less of classifying them.' * Does he know of this change in his life ? Has he consented to make the trial ? ' * Since he has quarrelled with Lently, he is, I fancy, only too thankful to find a new prop.' ' Quarrelled with Mr Lently ? I had no idea of this. What has the quarrel been about } ' * It seems that it is a matter of conscience with Lently, that clergy should not marry.' ' Ah ! ' and Lady Laura looked very care- worn and anxious. ' This then is the reason that Matthew seems so out of spirits, while Ante- Matrimonial. 1 6 7 Claire looks wonderlngly at the change in him; * It is impossible for Matthew either to find happiness himself or to afford it to Claire in the existing position of affairs. Now, my dear Lady Laura, do you see how imperative it is that Matthew should learn to think and act for himself ? ' 'Yes, yes. Of course he should do that^ but still he wants guidance/ ' He has been in leading strings too long. Mr Wharton, a scholarly friend of mine, to whom his father has decided on sending him, will of course watch for stumbles on the road to truth, but Matthew must learn to traverse it alone. He goes up to town next week, I believe.* All this intelligence fell like a thunder- bolt on Lady Laura. As she said, she was not clever, but she was a good, simple- hearted, loving woman, whose faith in holy things was strong, and whose way without 1 68 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. it would have been very blank and desolate. Mrs Desborough and Mr Sivewright's bolder opinions gave her no desire to entertain them — the very self-reliance they imposed, would have been irksome to her. Accord- ing to her idea, Matthew would be safer and happier, living on in blind belief, than having his eyes opened to broader, wider views ; yet what could she do to prevent the experiment his mother and her spiritual director were bent on trying ? She could but pray for the boy she loved well enough to entrust with the future welfare of her Claire. Her eyes filled with tears, as, at this moment, she saw the two young people coming back from their walk in the wood, and she thought of the storm clouds that were gradually rising over the sun of their lives, but of which they were, as yet, only beginning to feel the chilling approach. The vicar followed the direction of her glance, and smiled as he too saw the young Ante-MatiHmonial. 169 people coming towards the house. He did not attempt to take a hasty departure, but waited quietly till they came in, receiv- ing- them with that unctuous paternal patronage, which set them both quite at their ease — only on Lady Laura's brow the thoughtful pre-occupied expression failed to subside. CHAPTER XL CHEAP JACK. HEY say — what do they say? Who cares what they say ? * Still for all that Mrs Tre- mayne looks a trifle graver than is her wont, and wonders for a moment whether she can thoroughly afford to commit a conven- tional barbarism ! Then she bursts out laughing, as her sense of the comic be- comes thoroughly awakened, and the Babel of tongues set wagging in scandalous chorus at her expense seems to echo all around her. Finally, she settles herself in an arm- chair by the wood fire she had had lighted, the evening being chilly, in the pretty Cheap Jack, 1 7 1 drawinof-room in what she affects to call her toy-house in Mayfair, and she proceeds to think. Violet Tremayne is one of those individuals not uncommonly found in society, who act first and think afterwards : hence the numberless scrapes in which she per- petually finds herself involved, and the con- sequent extravagant expenditure of wits in order to rehabilitate her occasionally dubious position. Not even experience had taught Mrs Tremayne prudence, and goodness knows she had had a more violent tussle with the ups and downs of life than is the usual lot of women. Perhaps vicissitude to her was like alcohol to the drunk- ard, a stimulant without which existence would be intolerable, for she never failed to seek adventure, and more or less to rejoice over the imbroglios and difficulties into which her dangerous and somewhat sporting pastimes led her. To her starting 172 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. point in life's highway she never alluded, — evidently the road all about it was too muddy for her to wish even to return thither. She had no relations, she was wont to observe, and if she had, they were people she did not care to recognise. At seven- teen she had married Gerald Tremayne, not because she loved him, but because by doing so she had helped herself out of the mud on to a very fair piece of dry ground ; for Gerald Tremayne, though a gambler and a roud, came of a good old stock, and had, moreover, large expectations from a maiden aunt, who gave him credit for an amount of virtue and sanctity which all his familiars knew to be non-existent. He died, however, before his believing relative, and as the good old lady did not by any means include his rattling widow in the belief she had in Gerald, she made a fresh will, and left her entire property to a fifteenth cousin. Cheap Jack. 173 How Mrs Tremayne ever managed to keep up her tiny establishment in Mayfair no one knew. Sometimes she spent long months at Montarlis, but when she was at home everything was perfectly done, and the appointments almost luxurious. Some said she played high, and that when she was more than usually hospitable and extra- vagant, a recent visit to Monaco had pro- vided the seeming abundance of money. Be it as it may, Violet Tremayne has scarcely ever been in a more impecunious position than when she sits in front of the fire on that particular evening, reviewing her past escapade, with a letter just re- ceived from George Desborough lying un- opened in her lap. She dares not go back to Montarlis, for fear — not of the talk — no amount of chatter would disturb her — she would have an answer for every sally ; but for fear of the ominous silence with which she might be received. I 74 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, She turns the letter over once or twice, sees the Hurton post-mark, but does not open it, only goes off into a dream once more, and wonders whether the Cheap Jack who was so prominently present on the eventful morning of the balloon ascent has made any observation anent her non-appear- ance. Why should she think of Cheap Jack at that moment — what affinity can he possibly have with the perplexing issues of her life ? Strange — how even at the most serious moments — moments of graver importance than the present to Mrs Tremayne, that capricious and uncontrollable power thought should frequently wander to certain minute frivolous incidents which will, impertinently obtrude themselves on the consideration of the more serious matter one ought to have in mind. At last having settled her skirts and her ideas to her satisfaction, she runs a mother- Cheap Jack. 175 of-pearl paper knife daintily along the envelope and draws out George's letter. * Dearest Violet ' — she drops the missive once more in her lap and recommences the thinking process. What right has he to accost her thus — does their compact warrant it ? Then comes the next query — Does she love George Desborough ? ' No, no,' she answers, with a decided shake of her little head — her pulses beat no higher at the mention of his name, her colour neither comes nor goes as she sees his writ- ing on the sheet of note paper in front of her ; but he is an eldest son — this time the settle- ments must be quite en rdgle — Violet will not again put her head into the noose with- out having these arrangements fully carried out. This fact being decided, she turns once more to the missive, and her brow lowers ominously as she reads, — * Mr Sivewright ! ' — how dare he interfere 1 76 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. in her affairs ? Then guerre a outrance is declared between them — it remains to be proved which has the greater influence over the duchess — a Httle pressure and the whole thing will right itself. ' I believe I was a fool not to go straight back to Montarlis Castle, but it is of no use deceiving myself — I am just a little bit afraid of the duke ;' and she jumps up and begins to walk about the tiny room, as though her pent-up feel- ings seek a wider range. 'And Julia has not written one word — of course that is the Rev. Lawrence's fault — really her grace must be most terribly forgetful if she imagines she can so easily disembarrass herself of me. I'll wait two more days, and then if she does not write or take some notice, I'll send a telegram, which will, I think, bring the colour into your aristocratic cheeks, my grand, white skinned Julia. Yes, there' is a double advantage ingoing the pace, for while it warms one's blood at the time, Cheap Jack. 1 7 7 it also gives one, later on, the power to remind a comrade how near they were to you in the race. They don't love me at Montarlis, but they will have to put up with me till I have either married George Desborough, or some one more advanta- geous/ and she stood before a mirror in an old Venetian frame, and coquettishly arranged her curls. The visitor s bell startled her. ' Who on earth can it be ? London is at zero, and it is horribly late ! ' She looks at the old clock on the mantel- piece — a quarter to nine. She thrusts George Desborough's letter into her pocket and takes up the third volume of a novel. The button boy, who is Mrs Tremayne's sole male attendant, throws open the door, and presents a card on a silver salver. ' Mr Varley. I don't know the name, it must be some mistake,' says Violet, after a moments pause, during which a very astute VOL. I. M 1 78 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. observer might remark that her brow puckers Into something very much Hke a frown. ' What is he Hke ? ' ' Not a gentleman, though his clothes are good,' answers the page, with that prompti- tude for sorting gold from dross so peculiar to the sharp Londoner. * Go and ask him his business, Tom,' and during the short absence of the boy, Violet fidgets restlessly about the room. It is obvious she is not quite happy in her mind about the requirements of this un- known Mr Varley, ' Bah ! he is only some horrible dun,' she decides at last, as she throws herself once more In her arm-chair, just as Tom comes back with Mr Varley's message. It is in the form of another card, on which is written, — * Cheap Jack, from Hurton/ ' Good gracious ! how odd,' exclaims Violet. ' Show him up at once,' and then Cheap Jack. 179 to herself, while Tom goes to obey her orders, ' How delightful ! just when I was dull and wanted an adventure, too. I wonder what he can possibly want.' Cheap Jack came into the room by means of three or four glissades, which served to give his body a most obsequious curve. He was a small active man, with sharp features and a hook nose — in fact he was so very much over-nosed that one almost forgot that his face had any other charac- teristic, though in reality his twinkling eyes revealed latent cleverness. He was evidently got up for the occasion, and had expended much pomatum in plastering his straight black hair close to his cocoa- nut - shaped head. The blue and white striped blouse, and blue velvet gold-em- broiderqd smoking-cap which he wore when exercising the functions of his calling were replaced by a much creased black .frock-coat, buttoned up in the front, and 1 80 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. surmounted by a scarlet cravat tied in an ingeniously intricate bow. He had left his hat in the hall, but he carried in his hand a box about a foot square, which he held up towards Violet as he chasse-ed up to her. She met him with a peal of laughter, but it was so pleasant and cheery that there was nothing to offend him in the sound ; on the contrary, it seemed to fall on his ear as a welcome, for he stopped suddenly, and looked up smiling at the laugher. * It was put up for you in a raffle at Meckham Fair, and won,' he said, putting the box on a table close to Mrs Tremayne. * What ? ' she asked, still laughing ; but she looked at the box very much askance, as though afraid it might contain some explosive substance. * Mementoes of great deeds is due to every heroine/ explained Mr Varley pomp- Cheap Jack, i8i ously, with strong accents on all the wrong syllables. ' I don't in the least understand — you have made some egregious mistake.' * Mistake, madam. I have been in the cheap line too long to make many mistakes. Open that there box, if you please. Don't be afraid, it ain't nothing as 'ull jump,' for he could not help remarking a certain amount of nervous trepidation in Violet's manner. With dainty manipulation, and standing as far off from the box as she possibly could, she cut the string, and then jerked open the lid with the point of her knife. Nothing but a mass of paper and shavings lay before her. ' I have opened the box, please take out the paper,' she said, looking a little beseech- ingly at Cheap Jack, and moving to a still more respectful distance from the table. He observed her with a smile, and having 1 8 2 Sackcloth a7id Broadcloth. removed a deep layer of shavings, displayed a glass balloon of tiny dimensions. Violet gave a little scream. ' You nasty rude man, who sent you here to twit me ? Take away your horrid toy, and never let me see your face again,' Cheap Jack's countenance fell to zero. This was by no means the reception on which he had calculated when the admira- tion Mrs Tremayne's daring exploit had awakened in him prompted him to present her with the fairy balloon which, chance having placed it in his hands, he thought was a fitting memento, as he called it, of a great occasion. But how could Cheap Jack know that Violet deeply regretted the ad- venture, and would fain have its very re- membrance obliterated for ever from the mind of man and woman ? How could he tell that she was at that moment depressed by the ominous stillness which, reigning among her friends, made her dread the Cheap Jack. 1 8 o bursting of a storm which should carry her away from her place in society by its up- rooting violence. They looked at each other for a few seconds, these two anomalous subjects, and each tried to take stock of the other's feel- ings. From Mr Varley's pained, humiliated expression Violet inferred that he was a principal and not an agent, and by the sudden jumping at a conclusion for which she was celebrated, she resolved to use him if possible to her advantage ; while he — well, he was accustomed to snubs, yet he regretted just a little bit that he had come — that, carried away by his great admiration for Mrs Tremayne, he had so far forgotten him- self as to be guilty of a piece of unwarrant- able presumption. When the short watch they had both been keeping over each other's features was over, Mr Varley began to cover up his bit of glass work, while Violet was the first to speak. I 84 Sackcloth and Broadclolh. ' Stop a minute/ she said, ' let me look at It just once again,' He took it out of the box and held it up in all its dainty beauty, * It's first rate workmanship — blown at the best manufactory in England, every detail perfect, even to cords.' ' Ah ! I wish I had never seen a machine like that before, Mr — ' and Violet looked at the card lying on the table before she ventured on the word, ' *' Varley." ' * Wasn't your experience a pleasant one ? I am sorry now, you was so brave,' ' And I am to keep this lovely miniature balloon as a trophy or memento, or whatever you call It ? ' she said laughing, and taking it into her own delicate fingers. He bowed assent, looking perhaps more surprised than pleased ; the sudden change in her manner puzzled this man, who was totally unaccustomed to the vagaries of great ladles. As for anHhx 'teiisee, it did not Cheap Jack. 1 8 5 occur to him that such a thing could exist in this class of life, though he was fully and entirely alive to the commerce of motive and cause, which was very briskly proceeded with in his own trading career. Mrs Tremayne's next question after she had delivered herself of a profuse amount of thanks, produced no especial meaning to his mind. Merely as something to say did he regard the query as to when he was likely to be in the neighbourhood of Hurton. ' Very soon,' he answered promptly ; ' there is Meckleton Races next week, the course is just a mile from Vantage Park, Squire Desborough's place, you know.' Violet bowed her head. * I wonder if you would charge yourself with a commission for me when you go back into those parts.' ' Would I ? why, with all the pleasure in the world.' 1 86 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' When can you make it convenient to call here again ? ' * Whenever your ladyship pleases to ap- point/ Violet had risen to ladyship, as Mr Varley's good-humour increased. * To-morrow, rather earlier than this, say six o'clock.' He bowed his head and shuffled his feet as though the carpet were red hot. ' It is only a small parcel I want to send to some one in that neighbourhood, and I shall feel obliged if you will deliver it your- self,' explained Violet, turning the glass balloon round and round with admiring scrutiny, and finally tying it with crimson ribbon to a bracket near the fireplace, while Mr Varley, having promised to deliver the parcel, looked and wondered. Then she rang for the button boy, and bade him bring some glasses and sherry, and having stood with surpassing fortitude the drinking of her own health by her strange guest, she Cheap Jack. 187 at last succeeded in dismissing him in the happiest frame of mind. He had quite for- gotten the snub with which the interview had commenced, and went whistHng down the street, looking so universally delighted with himself and the whole world as to make the young and ragged sweeper at the corner observe to a companion, — * That master had come out of yon house uncommon squiffy.' Violet laughed. She touched her new toy and set it swinging, and then she stood looking at it and laughed again ; finally, having felt that George Desborough's letter was safe in her pocket, she began to turn out the contents of some drawers at the side of a Davenport which had been pushed into a corner, as being neither old enough nor new enough for fashion's requirements in the way of furniture. '^fs^ea^*- CHAPTER XII. MRS GILES. HE Rev. Luke Lently Is standing at his study door — the usual look of stereotyped asceticism seems temporarily to have departed from his face, on which lingers just half a smile. He Is rubbing his thin hands slowly together and listening. His companion is a lady long past even the suspicion of loitering within the very elastic boundary known as middle age. She Is a dry shrivelled woman with frizzly grey hair which lies In little tufts about her forehead, surmounting a countenance, of which the leading characteristic Is asperity. Her clothes, though neat and tidy, have no pretence of being fashionable ; on the con- Mrs Giles. trary, they are ludicrously the reverse, unless very full short skirts, displaying sturdy feet, cased In strong country-made leather boots, may be considered fashionable. Yet this is Mr Lently's pet parishioner — his factotum — the one Individual who shares In their full- est degree his beliefs and opinions, and who seeks moreover to assist him in carrying out to the very letter all the multitudinous pro- jects by which he hopes and believes he will coerce mankind into a full participation in all his views. Mrs Giles has been a widow for fifty years — for the last twenty she has lived what she herself calls ' on the confines of the church,' that is, when translated Into plain language, she has been slave to some pet minister, and thus obtained that stimulus in life which she failed to find in the mono- tony of her childless companionless home. For the first ten years she had served in evangelical leading strings, then she met 1 90 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Mr Lently, and becoming a convert to his fervid teaching, she had declared herself a zealous disciple ; and when the Rev. Luke gave up a surburban curacy for the more comfortable and remunerative position of Vicar of Ravensholme, Mrs Giles took a cottage in the parish and practised good works under his fatherly supervision. With Mrs Lently she had but little in corhmon ; her existence she designated as the one blot on a good man's life, and her shortcomings were regarded by the rigid practical Mrs Giles with — regretfully be it spoken — a mere modicum of Christian charity. Had she been less severe In her strictures on poor Mr Lently's failings ; had she elected to help and advise the wife, instead of living in a state of flattering subserviency to the husband, who shall say how different might have been the tone of domestic life at Ravensholme ; but Mrs Giles' ideas on the subject of good works did not drift in this direction ; after all, we Mrs Giles. 191 can only see good or evil according to the light given us. The Rev. Luke smiles as he listens to Mrs Giles' conversation. It is of mundane affairs. She Is administering a little of the luscious jam without which it were impos- sible to swallow the bitter life pills he daily- imposes on himself with conscientious com- pulsion. The doings at Montarlis Castle and Vantage Park form the staple subject for their talk on these occasions. Strange that human nature, even when purified to the very highest degree, must at times find a valve for its superfluous frailty, and that In cases where greater sins are banished, yet gossip and scandal Invariably hold their ground. The balloon ascent ! Yes, Violet Tremayne was right — It was the universal topic, dis- coursed of throughout the whole country ; no two people met without throwing a stone at the glass house in which she and George Desborough had rashly located themselves ; 192 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. even Mrs Giles and Mr Lently gave way to unkindly allusions and little jokes ; but then, be it remembered, Mr Lently was never per- mitted to cross the threshold of Montarlis Castle, and felt that he was only received on sufferance at Vantage Park. Moreover, he had not afforded himself the luxury of treat- ing those opposed to him in matters of faith with indifference, as Mr Sivewrlght did. He never forgave a snub, though he frequently exposed himself to the reception of one, not having neglected to court more than one from the Duke of Montarlis, to whom he was per- fectly aware that his particular tenets were especially distasteful. He smiled at the fancy of the airy equi- page bearing the dashing Mrs Tremayne into the realms of space. It was a freak of the elements which could not avoid awaking a smile ; but the passing mirthful ebullition died on a sudden to be replaced by a stern, cold glance at Mrs Giles' next remark. Mrs Giles. 193 'And now Mr George Desborough will have to marry the dainty lady. To finish the pretty romance, there will be two Desborough marriages, for they say Matthew is engaged to Miss Bailey.' ' God forbid ! ' ejaculated the Rev. Luke fervidly. * I have placed my veto on the unholy step.* ' And has Matthew promised to be obe- dient ? Alas ! my dear pastor, I fear there is more mischief going on in the fold than you are aware of.' Mrs Giles, in her love of gossip, could not even resist giving information which she knew would wound instead of amuse her beloved vicar. 'How so, what fresh calamity has fallen on my flock ? ' * Only that you are soon to lose one of them altogether.' ' Indeed, what have you heard ?' VOL. I. N 1 94 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. * That Matthew is going to be sent to a tutor in London.' * A wise measure — a very wise mea- sure ! ' half soliloquised Lently, 'that is if the choice has fallen on a just and faith- ful man.' ' Some years ago, when I was a much younger woman than I am now, and conse- quently more given to the vanities of the world, I was living in the neighbourhood of London ; next door to my dwelling there resided in a state of semi-genteel poverty a family of the name of Wharton. They held their heads up pretty high, notwithstanding their want of means, for they were born among the aristocracy— at least she was — the husband was a literary man — spent his time among old folios and philosophical treatises. Mrs Wharton and the girls were musical, however, and I have spent more than one evening pleasantly enough in their society.' Mrs Giles, 195 ' Why are you telling me this now ? ' inter- rupted her companion. * You will see the point directly if you will only have a due amount of patience, Mr Lently. After I had known the family about six months a son appeared, of whom till then I had only heard. He had been abroad finishing his education, in other words, cram- ming his head with metaphysical German nonsense, and losing what small amount of religious faith he may ever have possessed. I thought him a fine young fellow in those days, — thanks to your teaching, I regard him as a heathen now. Dear me ! I daresay he is a man of fifty by this time. He was a very — permit me the word — jolly sort of young man, strong in his own opinions, eloquent in his talk — almost converted me into the belief that free thought was the only aim and object of man. He was little more than a boy then — he is a professor now, with no end of letters strung after his name, and 196 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. he it Is who has been selected as Matthew's tutor.' A low moan of agony escaped from Mr Lently's lips, his tight Roman collar evi- dently choked him — and then he asked with sudden energy, as though hope, half crushed by Mrs Giles' intelligence, had sprung once more into life. ' But he, like yourself, has been converted, has given up these pernicious opinions long since ? ' She shook her head. * Though he is professedly a scholar, he is grovelling in the pathways of darkness,' she answered, and then they both sighed in chorus, and Lently asked, — ' Who has done this evil thing ? ' * Mr Wharton is an intimate friend of the Vicar of Fernwood-cum-Grasdale/ ' Sivewright ! He will have much to answer for. How a man dare live in open Mrs Giles. 197 defiance of all the canons of holy Church as he does, Is a mystery to me/ * How odd Matthew should not have told you of the change in his plans.' * Matthew Is not wholly subjugated. He is still restive of the yoke. He cannot give himself up soul and body to authority. I have yet much vacillation of purpose to fear for Matthew. The Idea that he has thought of entering on the matrimonial state fills my mind with sadness.' * Gracious !' ejaculated Mrs Giles, on whose ear at that moment fell discordant sounds of nursery tribulation, and before she had time to transfer her feelings into words, the younger members of the Lently family ran shrieking round the corner of the house, utterly regardless of their father s frowns or their mother's whining threats, which were heard in the far distance feebly promising a punishment she was powerless to inflict. Mrs Giles, to whom the little Lentlys were 198 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. particularly antipathetic — in fact, she always strove in her own mind to ignore the fact that the pastor had any family and belong- ings — immediately took her leave, walking down the footway into the churchyard, which she crossed, coming into the main road by a little wicket just as Mr Sivewright was rid- ing lazily by on a sleek cob, which was the envy of more than one middle-aged squire. Certainly the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright had the peculiar knack of invariably dis- covering and possessing himself of the best things in life. He raised his hat with an unctuous bow to Mrs Giles, and went on his way, she looking after him the while with very vinegarish glances. There was a sovereignty of manner about Mr Sivewright, an indiffer- ence to their opinions and their dictums, which made all the opposite religious faction fear him. No surer mode of holding a high position in the eyes of others than to seem to have an exalted place in your own esteem. Mrs Giles. 199 That Mr SIvewrlght acted on this axiom, either purposely or by accident, there is Httle doubt. Mrs Giles' way lay in the same direc- tion as that of the mounted divine, who was going to Montarlis Castle. She followed him for a few hundred yards, and then she turned in at a little green gate. She stood leaning against the gate looking after him ; when he was quite out of sight she walked slowly up a narrow path leading to a cottage, of which the door stood open, and entering a small rigidly furnished sitting-room sat down. She looked round the room with a very self- satisfied expression in her face — the religious pictures which were here and there dotted on the white walls reminded her of various phases of feeling, under the dominion of which she had hung them there — the bare floor with its occasional rug, the high-backed cushionless chairs, the coverless wooden tables, the cur- tainless windows, even the mediaeval clock serving for sole mantel-shelf ornamentation 200 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. all pointed to a life of asceticism in which Mrs Giles gloried, a life of self- regulated, self - inflicted conventual rule. Whether for the love of God or for the love of the Rev. Luke Lently she had chosen this life, it had been difficult for Mrs Giles herself to have defined, so inseparably did she connect in her mind the zealous friend whose teaching was so dear to her, with the Deity they both served according to their light. Yet Mrs Giles had not always been what she now was — did she not herself tell Mr Lently so but half-an-hour ago. Of all the history of her past life, however, she had not thought it necessary to inform him — as it was enclosed in the almost impervious wrapper of long long ago ; perhaps she had for- gotten what lay therein concealed. Either the sight of the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright riding along the road towards Montarlis had re- called it, or perhaps it was the conversation anent Mr Wharton which she had just had Mrs Giles. 201 with her pastor. Yet what possible connec- tion could or did exist between Mrs Giles' very middle - class career and the previous history of that particularly thorough - bred scholar-like gentleman Mr Sivewright ? Very certain it is that he never bestowed a thought on Mrs Giles, or even mentioned her name when she was alluded to in the neighbourhood, simply connecting her ex- istence with that of Mr Lently, and smiling at what he called ' a flagrant piece of pet parson worship.' Of course the friendships borne him by the Duchess of Montarlis and Mrs Des- borough were individual, between woman and man, and had nothing whatever to do with divine office. If Mr Sivewright had ever seen Mrs Giles in years gone by, he had entirely forgotten the fact; yet she could have told, had she chosen, more than one epi- sode of his early youth, when he and 202 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. young Wharton, after being at Oxford to- gether, had devoted a year to philosophy in a German university, and had come back to London to start on their career as men ; Wharton simply signing himself philosopher, while Lawrence Sivewright became a clerk in holy orders, with the Vicarage of Fern- wood-cum-Grasdale in prospect. Mrs Giles sits thinking over all this, and the tidy little village hand-maiden bringing in the tea wonders why the mistress, usually so exact In all the details of daily life, * daunders ' instead of taking off her bonnet and cape, as she is wont to do the moment she enters the house, instantly beginning some active employment, either in connection with soul or body. But even the sight of Patty with the tea does not move Mrs Giles, and the girl has placed it on the table and made a good deal of clatter with plates and knives before her mistress goes up the little stair- case to her own room ; and even when she J/rj- Giles, 203 has reached it, instead of at once replacing her poke bonnet by the white full bordered cap she usually wears, she stands looking out of the window. ' Matthew Desborough ' is the name that almost mechanically drops from her lips ; then it is not Lawrence Sivewright's past over which she is dream- ing ? No — only as it bears any influence on Matthew Desborough's present. Not that Mrs Giles has any personal and deep in- terest in that young man, except as regards his relations with Mr Lently. Perhaps she had rejoiced when she thought he was re- solved to waive the question of orders, and was determined to marry Claire Bailey. Not for the Church's sake, be it thoroughly understood ; but Mrs Giles was a woman, though an old one, and she was anxious to keep her influence over her pastor fresh and full. The age at which jealousy dies in the feminine heart has never yet been clearly defined. CHAPTER XIII. CRACKLING ICE. FEW seconds after the Vicar of Fernwood-cum-Grasdale had Hfted his hat to Mrs Giles he forgot the fact of her existence ; and he and his sleek cob, alike enjoying the beauty of a soft autumnal afternoon, jour- neyed tranquilly along towards Montarlis Castle, the vicar guessing as little as did his equine companion how many rumina- tions meeting him had produced in the mind of the ' eccentric widow,' as he usually designated her. Arrived at his destination, and his cob having been led round to the ducal stables, Crackling Ice. 205 he was at once ushered into the library, where five o'clock tea had preceded his Cidvent by a few minutes. If a tete-d-tete talk with the duchess was the object of his visit, he was destined to be disappointed, for there was quite a little coterie of privileged intimates sipping the gossip-flavoured beverage, alike welcome in the castle and the cabin. He shook hands with the fair chatelaine, and bowed to one or two guests but little known to him, while perhaps a very keen observer might have noticed just a tinge of disappoint- ment on his countenance ; scarcely, how- ever, because the duchess was surrounded by friends. Mr Sivewright was perfectly aware that it was the usual hour of meeting, and even if he were desirous of a conversa- tion with the duchess, he was fully sensible that under no circumstances is a private talk more thoroughly and conventionally obtained than in a crowd. He only found what he ex- 2o6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, pected then on entering the richly stored library at Montarlls Castle, on the many treasures of which the sun at that moment was casting, as though lovingly. Its depart- ing rays through the small-paned mullloned windows — with one exception. There was a curly-haired brunette seated on a low chair by the table ; she had thrown a large Gains- borough hat at her feet, and was doing the honours of the occasion for the duchess. 'You don't take sugar, I think, Mr Slve- wrlght ? How are you ? ' she said flippantly with a little nod, holding a large lump daintily In the tiny old-fashioned tongs as the vicar approached her. ' Thank you ; no tea.' Ah ! there was to be found the reason of Mr Sivewrlght's disappointed look ; he did not expect to see Violet Tremayne re-estab- lished, at all events not so soon, In her old familiar relations with the duchess. Further- more, he had not been consulted on the Cracklmg Ice. 207 matter, which was, at the least, not flattering ; but he could have passed the seeming neglect very lightly by, had not the fact of Mrs Tremayne being there involved, according to his views, such very grave issues. For a moment or two the arrival of so important a member of society as the Vicar of Fernwood had silenced the busy talkers, all of whom were ladles, the male guests at Montarlis not having yet returned from shooting; but Mr Sivewrlght's courteous affable manners soon set every one chattering again even more freely than before, and, taking a cup of tea from Mrs Tremayne, he handed It to the duchess. Their eyes met in one flash, and she said very quietly, scarcely moving her lips as she spoke, — ' I could not help it ; ' then as if she feared even that instantaneous exchange of con- fidences might be perceived, she went on, — * Vi, dear, have you forgotten Mrs Belllng- ham '^, She has had no tea.' 2o8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Meanwhile Mr Slvewrlght passed to the farther end of the room, with his usual urbanity, to devote himself to a rather pretty- looking shy girl, who was sitting apart from the others. She was only just out, and by no means au courant with the dashing talk of the day, having been carefully kept to a school-room routine which admitted no gleams of social light. In her heart she scarcely thanked the vicar for his notice, kind though It seemed, but she hardly knew how, he led the conversation to some of her pet books, and in a very few minutes she was talking glibly, without blushing and paling at every alternate moment. Yet, could she but have known it, she had more to fear from Mr Slvewrlght than from the usual carpet knights whose platitudes awed her and whose chaff struck terror into her breast. Mr Slvewrlght was studying human nature. He was wondering how long it would be Crackling Ice. 209 before this frightened child would develop into the consummate actress most of her fashionable sisters had become ; and his eye wandered from the graceful stately duchess, who was his beau-ideal of womanhood, to the little rosy beauty with whom he was talking, and then across the room to the laughing Violet, till finally he shrugged his shoulders as though he had come to the conclusion that women's ways were unguessable riddles, imposed mercilessly by the gods on men. At last, so utterly absent did he become, owing to his mental contemplations, that the little girl by his side did not fail to remark it, and extreme shyness being usually the result of a superabundance of pride, she felt hurt at his sudden inattention to her remarks, and starting up, sped briskly across the room to where her mother was sitting, and took shelter under her fostering wing. Mr Sivewright smiled a little sadly ; he was sorry he had scared the child from his side, VOL. I. o 2 1 o Sackcloth and Broadcloth. yet he could not resist being amused at the amount of womanHness already developing itself in that young nature — demanding ab- solute attention and devotion as a right. The vicar sat musing apart from the rest, till Violet Tremayne's gay tones recalled him to the circle round the tea-table, as in ban- tering accents she exclaimed, — ' Mr Sivewright invariably finds matter wherewith to compose a sermon whenever he comes to Montarlis ; let us have the text of the next homily, reverend sir.' It was an impertinent challenge under all the circumstances, and Mr Sivewright re- garded it as such, and answered promptly, — * Loving goes by haps, Some Cupid kills by arrows, some with traps.' The ready answer occasioned a general laugh, though none perhaps save the duchess and Mrs Tremayne accepted the point. To the latter it evidently went Crackling Ice. 2 1 1 straight home, and for a moment or two paralysed the power of repartee in which she was usually so strong ; she gave one searching look at the vicar which revealed all the deep fund of hatred of which her heart was capable, and, without even being a coward, Mr Sivewright might have quailed before the animosity he had awakened ; but he remained firm as granite, and gave the lady look for look, till, recovering her mo- mentary weakness, she said so gaily and adroitly as to make him almost like her for her cleverness, * Indeed, this is delightful ; let us have a rehearsal now — tell us all about it, Mr Sive- wright — have you been shot or caught, and by whom ? We thought him invulnerable, did not we, duchess ? But, after all, he would not be human if he were without his Achilles' heel ? ' But the duchess, though appealed to, only smiled somewhat sadly. She was not pleased 2 12 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. at the fact of being compelled to receive Violet at Montarlis, not pleased with Mr Sivewright for calling almost public atten- tion to recent events, and seriously dis- pleased with circumstances for having pre- vented her from explaining matters fully to him she had selected as director and ad- viser, before this untoward meeting had occurred. But Violet went on, — * Now, Mr Sivewright, the sermon, if you please,' and she pushed a stately old-fashioned chair towards him, on which she begged him to be enthroned. Mr Sivewright declined the seat with a bow, and with mock gravity quietly placing himself behind the high chair she had offered, looked thoroughly en prone. Amusement was depicted on every face, save that of Violet, who looked defiant, and the duchess's, who seemed painfully anxious ; perhaps the vicar felt she might have trusted him, for though his eye fell Crackling Ice. on her lingeringly, he abated no jot of the ceremonial with which he accepted the func- tion imposed on him by Violet ; but looking from one to another at the knot of expectant listeners, he began, — ' Spontaneous affection and sheer co- ercion, these are the two powerful motive forces which actuate the amiable or loving tendencies of man. Happy he or she, as the case may be, on whom the gift of spon- taneity Is conferred. The lucky indivi- dual has but to follow his good impulses and trust faithfully to the blind god who has bestowed them, that he will con- duct the suit he himself has instituted to a happy termination with his usual kind supervision. Far be It from us to cavil at or animadvert on godlike agencies. When, too, was Cupid ever known to play false ? ' Here the vicar was Interrupted by such a chorus of giggles as to stop his inter- pretations ; but not for a moment losing 2 1 4 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. command over his own gravity, when they had somewhat ceased he proceeded, — * It is, on the contrary, to those who have fallen from their high estate in the love- god's favour that we would address a word of warning and advice. To those who, receiving no impulsive natural affection, elect to seek it at any cost, and erect a temple to Hymen even on the most impossible heights, amid rugged crags and on unculti- vated ground. To such individuals I would paternally say " Beware. " A union un- hallowed by Cupid reverts with dismal misery on him who sets the trap — for when was a poor limed bird ever known to submit un- flutteringly to its entanglement ; rather does it not take instant flight when the viscous substance by which it has been made cap- tive loses its adhesive qualities. And no glue, believe me, has yet been discovered that is impervious to every vacillating ten- dency of place and time. Stormy days will Cracklmg Ice. 2 1 5 arrive, tidal waves will overflow the seem- ingly pleasant river banks ; sooner or later the bird will free himself without Cupid making one single effort to rivet the chain he had no hand in forging. But to illus- trate the subject. An instance has lately come to my knowledge which — ' ' Really, Mr Sivewright, I cannot see — ' It was the duchess who spoke, but Mrs Tremayne stopped her. ' Hush, Julia dear. Let him finish the illustration by all means. Mr Sivewright — the illustration. It will be especially in- teresting.' ' In a fashionable foreign watering-place, some ten years ago, there was a young girl and a somewhat elderly man she called her father. Theirs was a well-worn tale of gambling, debt, and destitution/ ' Mr Sivewright ! ' He paused and looked at Violet Tremayne as she uttered his name in exclamation. 2 1 6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Did you know this girl, Mrs Tremayne ? ' ' I ? No. How should I ? But we scarcely asked for a picture.' * Still it is a true one. Shall I finish the sketch ? ' ' Yes,' said a chorus of voices, among which the duchess and Mrs Tremayne were alone silent. He looked at her for a second very pointedly ; then at the duchess, whose coun- tenance still evinced a considerable amount of alarm ; finally he said, as if entirely giv- ing in,— ' I must apologise, ladies, for taking up so much of your time and attention ; really I don't know what excuse I have to offer.' ' You have told us nothing, Mr Sive- wright ; but do — ' exclaimed a curious old dame. Violet interrupted her. ' Oh, he knows a set of horrible people ; don't ask him any more,' and she got up from the tea-table. * For my part, I think Crackling Ice. 2 1 7 women who set men-traps are fools ; It is against them you were preaching, I believe. There is not a man living that one would not be much better without — your reverence included.' Everybody laughed a little falsely. Mr Sivewrlght's discourse perplexed their minds ; they could not quite see its object, though that it had one, the white face of the duchess too plainly testified. Violet made a diversion, and putting on her hat, said she was going on the terrace to look at the sunset. She was soon followed by the rest of the party, and for a brief space the duchess and Mr Sivewrlght were left alone. ' How could you walk on crackling ice — for what purpose ? ' she asked hurriedly. * At any cost Mrs Tremayne must no longer be domiciled here. How could you ask her to come back after that balloon business ? I must speak to the duke.' 2 1 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, ' My dear friend, you will not — you must not. If you are going to fail me, to whom shall I turn for assistance ? I am powerless to coerce Violet Tremayne. She mtcst be here, and instead of helping me to stem difficulties, you have made her your mortal enemy. Oh, Mr Sivewright, advise me ; what am I to do ? ' ' I do not understand.' ' Mrs Tremayne holds a secret of mine ; unless I keep her in the position of my bosom friend, she will reveal it to my hus- band.' * Outwit her by telling him yourself,' said the vicar promptly. * Oh, I dare not — I dare not. Have not I limed an eagle, and I cannot bear to be cast ignominiously from my eyrie. For mercy's sake, out of friendship to me, leave Violet's affairs alone, and let her arrange them as she will — ' ' Let her marry George Desborough, you Crackling Ice. 2 1 9 mean ; considering my strong personal in- timacy with his family, it would scarcely be a friendly action on my part ; knowing what I do—' * Mr Sivewright, I beseech you to be silent for my sake,' and the duchess's velvety hand was laid on the vicar's wrist. The Rev. Lawrence Sivewright was but human ; notwithstanding his sacred calling, could he resist this woman's pleading ? He took her hand in his own, with the air of a man to whom it was no unusual occurrence, but the merry troop from the terrace came laugh- ing into the room in total forgetfulness of the riddle which had been propounded, so the vicar could not speak. When some half- hour later he went away, it was with a graver more thoughtful expression of face than when Mrs Giles had watched him leisurely riding up the road. -'>m:^^m^ CHAPTER XIV. A QUEER BARGAIN. ,T is the morning succeeding the unusually interrupted tea - chat, when, dressed d la vivandiere in blue and red flannel, Violet Tremayne is standing alone on the terrace which over- looks the gardens at Montarlis. She hides her eyes with her hand and looks through the trees, nearly bereft of foliage, as though seeking to distinguish some object in the far distance ; with an impatient gesture at its non-appearance she paces rapidly up and down, and then stops to look once more in the same direction. After repeating this manoeuvre two or three times, she runs A Queer Bargain. 2 2 1 swiftly down the steps at the farther end of the balcony, and crossing the wide lawn without looking round, she speedily disap- pears from the view of any one who may have been watching her from the windows of the house. Mrs Tremayne's movements, ever eccen- tric and erratic, do not as a rule create much observation from those who are accustomed to her habits. They have too frequently in- vestigated some seemingly mysterious doings on her part, to be simply repaid by the information that she had no especial object for her behaviour, to trouble themselves about her goings and comings. Some of her friends had arrived at the conclusion that she was just a little cracked ; while the servants and dependants at Montarlis decided that it was ' only Mrs Tremayne's way,' and attached no importance to any un- usual circumstance in connection with her. No one guessed that it was part of Violet's 2 2 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. plan of life ; she argued that a hundred well acted mysteries, which are no mysteries at all, enable the hundred and first, being a reality, to escape without remark. The occasion presents itself now, and Violet has judged rightly. * There goes Mrs Tremayne down into the wood,' the butler remarks to the valet ; ' she'll come back at luncheon time with those big pockets full of nuts, and try to per- suade every one she has had an adventure ; ' and so the subject is dropped, while Violet still speeds on, never stopping for a second till she is quite half-a-mile from the house. This time she has a bond fide assignation ; and with none other than Mr Varley, the Cheap Jack of Hurton market-place. Violet was too accustomed to utilise the crooked bits and ends of life to let so available an oddity as Mr Varley press himself as it were into her service without retaining him. The heart of man is prone to sudden and way- A Qtceer Bargain. 223 ward likings, and Cheap Jack had formed one of these for Mrs Tremayne, when he saw her for the first time starting on her balloon journey with George Des- borough. ' A queer fondness for a unit like me to have for a lady born/ as he himself ex- pressed it ; but then he could not guess how much of the gipsy there was in both their natures, producing probably the affinity. It was the first time he had seen Violet since her return to Montarlis, though more than one interview had taken place in London. ' Well, Jack, how are you ? ' They had grown quite familiar — that was obvious from Violet's greeting as she ap- proached the large elm close to which Mr Varley was standing. He had left his gay little equipage in the main road, with the tiny tiger in charge, and himself habited in his usual blue blouse and velvet cap was awaiting the lady's arrival. 2 24 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, He pulled his cap off as he heard her voice and made a deep salaam. He did not seem surprised at her off- handedness — it was a way she had which was so essentially a portion of herself that few people presumed to cavil at it, and assuredly the exception was not likely to be her new acquaintance Mr Varley. ' You executed my commission beautifully/ she said, ' gave my little parcel to the duchess her very own self.' * Yes, my lady, and a rare bit of luck it was to meet her grace walking alone with the dogs down near the pond yonder.' ' Yes, I know — she told me ; and how did she look when she opened the letter ? ' * Rather skeered like. I was really sorry when I saw it wasn't a pleasant packet' ' Poor Julia — poor Julia, but she'll get over it, she'll have to bear annoyance like other folk ; you and I don't escape, do we — eh, Jack?' A Queer Bargain. 225 Varley shuffled and looked shy, the flatter- ing way in which she seemed to place him on an equality with herself quite overpowered him. Mrs Tremayne laughed, and asked him what she owed him for all the trouble he had taken ; but the pained expression of the man's face stopped her before she had reached quite the end of her sentence. ' Nothing, my lady — nothing. I am quite repaid by your having granted me the honour of this interview.* ' Good gracious ! Well, you are easily satisfied. I'd come here every day in the week if you would transact all my business for me for that small payment.' ' I am always to command if there is any business to do and I am in these parts ; what's more, I'd stop in these parts if I thought as you wanted me.' For the first time it occurred to Violet as she looked at him, that she had inspired a VOL. I. p 2 26 Sackcloth mid B7^oadcloth. grande passion. She did not flinch from the idea with repugnance, as it behoved her position to have done ; alas ! no, she put it down instantly on her list of con- quests, feeling a little flattered and very largely amused. Montarlis was not unfre- quently dull to one who, like Violet, objected to the perpetual strictness of high life — here was a charming valve, by which she might get rid of any amount of monotony : she resolved at once to improve the occasion, and sitting down on the bough of an old tree which lay on the ground close to her, she invited Mr Varley to give her some account of the mode in which he passed his life. Garrulity was his wonted forte, though he would not have acknowledged it : but on this occasion Cheap Jack was a little serious, and consequently inclined to be silent, — though to most men Violet Tremayne sitting in a very degagde attitude on the old tree would have been scarcely A Qtieer Bargain. 227 an awe-strlklng picture. She was too im- pertinent in her ways to make her lovers very distant. * Well, you travel all over the country in that trap, and you carry your wares under- neath it, and you have no troubles, no cares, no anxieties ; how I envy you. Heigh ho ! If we could but change places.' Cheap Jack raised his eyes for a moment and looked at her with something of a flash ; then he said with some bitterness, — ' My life is hard enough at times — not one for such as you to envy. When times Is bad, its bad fare as the liges of us gets, and when they're good 'taint every public as Is open to receive us. Some folk's money isn't as good as others in this world.' * Oh, how delightful ! that's just what is so charming — uncertainty. I've often thought I should like to live in a gipsy's covered cart and go about the country.' 2 2 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. * When you do, may I be servant and put you up to the tricks of the trade.' ' Agreed.' And Violet laughed merrily as she sat swinging herself backwards and for- wards on the old tree, delighting In the storm she saw full well she was awaking In this man's breast' * I suppose you know most of the people about here ? ' she asked after a short pause. ' Gentle and simple, my lady, for the most part. But where's the neighbourhood that Jack Varley don't know the folk. More about their histories too sometimes than they know themselves.' ' I daresay, I daresay. In which case It is better to be your friend than your foe,' and Violet laughed a little nervously. ' It ain't much as I says,' he answered. 'I'm a man of few words 'cept when I'm forced perfesslonally to puff my wares. If I talked more I shouldn't hear so much.' A Queer Bargain. 229 'It is quite wonderful how you make up all those beautiful speeches about your goods. I heard you once in Hurton market- place,' said Violet flatteringly. * Don't I look like it ? ' and he dropped his voice almost to a whisper as he spoke. * Me ? Lor' bless ye, lady, I couldn't do it. It's a blind man as lives in a court out of St Paul's Churchyard in London as com- poses they puffs. It's a trade as well as another. I gets 'em into my head while I am having my solitary dinner or driving along the roads in my shay.' ' I'll write you one,' cried Violet, * such a puff; it will bring you In pounds. Oh! what fun ; and in return — ' ' Whatever I can do for your ladyship for all your favours, your ladyship is to command,' and Mr Varley took to shuffling his feet once more, as though this new mark of Violet's esteem was quite too much for his nervous susceptibilities. 230 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Well, in return you shall do whatever I bid you — always.' He took off his velvet cap and bowed, thus tacitly declaring his determination to do her bidding. It was a strange compact, and one from which most women in Mrs Tremayne's posi- tion would have flinched ; but to Violet a love of excitement and out-of-the-way ad- venture was so strangely mixed up with a strong desire to keep her place in society, that she looked upon the whole thing as a rare joke. Balloon travelling had evidently not given her a sufficient warning ; since she was once more at Montarlis she imagined she had got over that little difficulty, not- withstanding Mr Sivewright's inuendoes. Could she not utilise this man perhaps to pay off some of the grudges she owed the duchess's reverend friend ? Ay, there was a question involving immense issues she thought, as she got up from her rather A Queer Bargain. uncomfortable seat and held out her hand to the astonished Cheap Jack, who merely touched it with the tips of his fingers, so unaccustomed was he to have anything so fair and dainty presented to him. * I must go now, but I'll see you again here next Monday. We shall be going to London soon ; there is a marriage and some festivities in prospect, to which all the Mont- arlis party is going.' And so they parted. Cheap Jack going rather thoughtfully in the direction of his little cart, Mrs Tremayne tripping through the wood singing the refrain of a light French song, and looking as pleased over her anomalous rencontre as though her new admirer were a prince in disguise. The sound of a gun being fired off close to her made her start. * What ! shooting this covert. I thought you were miles away,' she said as several men, the duke and George Desborough 232 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. among them, came plunging through some brushwood and stood before her. * It is kicky you did not have an eye put out or your hand shot off,' said the duke. * Whoever expected to meet you here ? ' ' I never wish anybody to know where they may expect to meet me,' she answered laughing. * Life is far too short to be arranged by rule and rote. How do you do, Mr Desborough .^ When last we met 'twas in a balloon.' George coloured up — her cool effrontery somewhat abashed him ; and the duke scowled and went on — the mention of that episode invariably made him angry — it was entirely out of drawing ; that is, as the pic- ture of human life should be sketched according to his views. ' It is not my fault that we have not met,' George whispered as the duke walked away. * Why do you so cruelly forbid me all sight of you ? ' A Queer Bargain. 233 ' Perhaps an account of that hydra-headed termagant — gossip — perhaps, because the less you see of me the more you will pine for my society.' ' Oh, Mrs Tremayne, how cold and untrue.' * Untrue ! Oh no, believe me, Mr Des- borough, I know your sex better than you do yourself, though you are one of them.' ' Only tell me that you care for me just a little, and I will patiently attend your bid- ding and wait the probationary time.' * Care for you ; It will take me all that time to read my heart — six months, was it not ? I am not so quick at mastering a subject as you are.' ' Ah, Violet — Violet, you are seeking to deceive yourself and me. If you do not love me, why are you here now ? ' ' Not to meet you — on my oath — though I like you all the better for suggesting it ; 2 34 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. most men In your position would conceitedly have thought that I wandered this way on the chance of an Interview, while you have been honest enough to charge me with It. I will be equally plain-spoken with you — I came on a totally different errand.' * To meet some one else ? ' ' Perhaps — ' she laughed gaily ; ' but see, the duke and the others have gone on — they are nearly out of sight ; you seem absolutely bent on compromising me.' And before he had time to utter another word she ran off, trilling once more the refrain of the old French song, and leaving him with that pregnant word ' perhaps ' rankling in his mind CHAPTER XV. DOTES YET DOUBTS.' ^!jii in her mother's room at Swanover Cottage. She is watching the fitful flames as they come and go in a wood fire, which has been hghted for her especial benefit — more as a companion than on account of chilliness ; but from the circlets round her eyes it is obvious that her thoughts scarcely go with her glance, but are dwelling on some dismal subject in connection with her own trials in life. Matthew has gone ! A presentiment of evil came to Claire with the knowledge that he was to be sent away, but the last fare- wells have been said. He regards the 236 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. parting only as a brief cessation of their daily walks ; not as a broken cord, but as an elastic band which stretched at will returns forthwith to Its former limit. Alas ! how often do not even elastic bands Increase In size by stretching, and sometimes snap at a fragile touch. To Claire, for some indefinable reason which she could not have explained, even to her mother, It seemed as though the cord-elastic — call It what you will — had already snapped. She had seen Matthew come and go during his many Oxford vacations, and had fed her pets as usual, visited her poor as she was wont — now, she lay passively there and cared to take interest In naught. True, she had not loved Matthew in those days, or rather she had not owned her love ; but did It not lie hidden In her heart, however much she might seek to Ignore its presence ? Matthew had gone, to come back no more. Oh, bodily in the flesh, he would ' Dotes yet Doubts! 237 be Instinct with life, she had no apprehension of his speedy dissolution ; but that he would be hers— her very own to care for and to caress she doubted. Some phantom — some grim shadowy phantom — ^seemed to stand before her, as though presiding over the destinies of the man she loved. Lady Laura said but little — what could she say ? She shared all too fully her daughter's views, and dreaded even more than she did the influence which she felt sure would be brought to bear on Matthew in London. She was sitting reading, or pretending to read, in the window, while Claire with swollen eyes and aching brow was contem- plating the flaming fuel. At last the girl jumped up with a sudden energy. ' Mamma, this is wrong and wicked. Matthew would be quite angry if he saw me so dispirited ; let us go out.' The maternal book was closed on the instant. 2^8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. J ' Yes, my love, the air will, I am sure, do you good. Why you are so down-hearted I can't think ' (in her heart she knew full well). ' Matthew has only gone away for a little while.' ' He has gone for ever. Some one may come back, but it will not be Matthew ; and what is a shell without the kernel ? ' ' These are mere superstitious fancies, child ; what has he said to make you imagine these things ? ' * Nothing, mother ; but don't you think that the people among whom Matthew has been sent will teach him more of philo- sophy than love, and that after he has been a few weeks in this new world which Mr Sivewright has discovered for him, I shall appear a poor little ignorant country mouse, possessing no power to attract or please him.' ' Claire, if you have so mean an opinion of Matthew Desborough's faith and self- * Dotes yet Doubts! 239 reliance, how Is It you love him, my child ? ' ' Because the heart Is wayward, I suppose, and will not be guided by the mind's convic- tion. I love Matthew because I love him, not altogether because I trust him. Ah me ! ' ' My daughter, my Claire, it is a fearful thing that you are saying ; you love without trust, without belief. It is the most danger- ous rock against which a woman can dash her earthly happiness.' ' I know it mother — know it, oh, so well. Have I not fought against it, been scared by Matthew's addresses, prayed, wept when you knew nothing of my feelings ? But the love was strongest, and I had to yield. If I die of misery I can resist no more.' ' But why should you doubt him, Claire. He is good and kind and manly — above all, possessed of a strong religious faith. He is almost too much of an enthusiast in fact.' 240 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Ah, mother, his zeal is hot but his faith is weak. Matthew must have a code to which to trust for guidance and support. Pray God it may always be the true one.' Lady Laura looked at Claire in some sur- prise ; she had never before known that her little daughter possessed such analytical dis- crimination ; true, Claire had always been a quiet thoughtful child, and perhaps from the very fact that she had habituated herself from infancy to think much and talk but little of her feelings, was she the more capable of shaping them into words, now that under the influence of a great excitement she felt the necessity of revealing her inmost thoughts to her mother. ' Give sorrow words ; the grief that does not speak, Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.' ' What reason have you to think that Matthew will fall away from his faith, my Claire ? ' * Because he wants strength of purpose, ' Dotes yet Doubts. ' 241 mother, and is easily led by the opinions of those around him.' ' Yet he is clever,' murmured rather than said Lady Laura. ' Too clever, perhaps,' answered poor Claire dolefully ; * if he did not seek to know too much, he would be more satisfied with what he has already learned.' * You love Matthew, yet you do not respect him. You regard him as weak and vacillat- ing. Oh, Claire, it is a miserable picture ; strange too that Mr Sivewright should form the same judgment.' * Has he—' But Lady Laura's question remained un- asked. Claire's head was turned away, lying among the sofa cushions, and she was sob- bing as though her heart would break. * They will take him from me in London,' she cried. * Mr Sivewright knows full well the effect absence will have on Matthew.' ' But Claire, listen to reason ; you have VOL. I. Q 242 Sackcloth a7id Broadcloth. promised to be this man's wife ; he is pledged to you by every law of honour. If a few months' absence makes him break his word, how do you think it would stand a life test, my child ? Be brave, my little girl, true to yourself — true to your womanhood. If Mat- thew is unfaithful to his allegiance, call on your pride for armour. It is a woman's glorious panoply, my daughter, and woe be to her who allows it to be trampled under her feet ; for she loses both her self- respect and the respect of her fellows.' Claire sat up while her mother was talking, and wiping the large drops from her eyes, looked at her almost vacantly, as though the weight of all this reasoning were too much for her aching heart and head. * I will do my best,' she said after a short pause, ' and, mother, you will help me, will you not ? ' Lady Laura's arms were round her, and the aching bewildered head was laid on the truest heart that would ever beat for Claire. ' Dotes yet Doubts J 243 Yet Lady Laura felt she must be * cruel only to be kind.' Nursing Claire's sick fan- cies was scarcely the way to cure them, so she bade her daughter bathe her face in fresh cold water, put on her hat and come out. ' We will go and see some of our poor pensioners,' she said ; ' by witnessing their, sufferings, perhaps w^e shall be enabled to forget our own. We will not talk of Matthew any more.' The girl, accustomed to obey her mother's slightest wishes, complied at once. In the course of half-an-hour they were going the tour of the cottages, Lady Laura talking on every subject which she thought was likely to interest Claire ; but it was almost hopeless, the girl's white face and pre-occupied look disheartened the mother, who already re- gretted the day when the thunder-storm had brought about that unexpected interview. Coming back through the little wood they met Mr Lently — Father Lently as he elected 244 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. to be called by his parishioners. He lifted his laree soft clerical wide-a-wake when he saw them, perhaps feeling as much as they did that it was an unfortunate meeting ; but considering the parochial relations which existed between them, there was no alterna- tive but to stop. Lady Laura had had no conversation with Mr Lently on the subject of Matthew Desborough, but she knew, partly by in- tuition and partly from hints Matthew him- self had dropped, that some of the recent occurrences were in accordance with the vicar's views of seemliness and well-doing. Perhaps she scarcely wished to discuss the subject with him, and had consequently kept out of his way ; be it as it might, she held her hand out to him with all cordiality — a cordiality which was in no wise reciprocated in the vicar's manner. He merely touched her fingers lightly, as he said harshly, — ' I have just been to Swanover. I wish ' Dotes yet Dottbts' 245 to have a little conversation v^Ith you about our young friend Matthew Desborough, over whom It seems you have of late been gaining an undue amount of Influence.' * Some other time I shall be very happy,' answered Lady Laura stiffly, making an effort to save Claire from an unpleasant dis- cussion. * Some other time, Lady Laura ; do you not know that by procrastination a living soul may be lost ? ' ' Full well do I know it,' she said warmly. * Yet I scarcely realise that any conversation you and I may have about Matthew touches on so grave a subject.' ' Have you not been instrumental in send- ing him to London, in order that, away from my teaching, he may be more amenable to your views ? ' ' The question is so injurious as to be almost insulting,' and Lady Laura reddened, as she drew herself up proudly. 246 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. He seemed somewhat astonished ; in the character of the good, benevolent, amiable Lady Laura, he had forgotten to look for the substratum of pride which she, however, knew full well how to lay bare at will. Be- fore he had time to make any remark, she went on, — ' You will kindly allow me to postpone the discussion of this subject ; fix any hour you like, and I will grant you an interview.' Lady Laura dictating terms and time to that arch-autocrat, the Vicar of Ravensholme, was so utterly paradoxical that, strange to say, from its very novelty, it was blandly received. ' To-morrow after matins,' he said, as he once more lifted his soft hat. Lady Laura bowed and passed on, followed by Claire, who looked utterly bewildered. * Dotes yet Doubts. ' 247 Mr Lently had never even looked at her, and to find herself thoroughly ignored by her pastor was another drop of bitterness added to the cup, which was filling all too com- pletely for poor Claire's powers of endur- ance. * Mamma, what does it mean ? Have I done anything wicked ? ' she asked as soon as Mr Lently was out of hearing. * You ? — no, my child. It means that you and Matthew are being made the victims of the dissensions which are rending our poor dear English Church. Rival opinions are fighting for Matthew — poor Matthew ! May he have strength to bear the brunt of the conflict ! ' * Oh, mamma ! how very dreadful it all is ! What can I do ? ' ' Nothing, Claire, but pray and be patient ; be true to your faith and to yourself, and if, as God grant may not prove the case, you 248 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. have drawn a blank in the great lottery of life, remember you will not be the first woman who has suffered for her love's sake.' END OF VOL I. COLSTON AND SON, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH. y_yj?y;''^./2^_''ZMf'i//^'m/2''.